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No milestone looks impossible to attain when Tiger is ruling the roost

Hardik Vyas
Editor's Pick
846   //    29 Mar 2013, 11:38 IST
2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard - Final Round

Tiger Woods reclaimed the world number one ranking for the first time since October 2010 with a closing round of two-under 70 to capture the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. (Getty Images)

On the 15th, in the final round at Bay Hill, Ricky Fowler showed his first few signs of losing the plot. He was just three shots off the pace set by Tiger and looked to make a contest out of nothing on a Monday afternoon. Yet all he managed was to find the waters twice and ended with a triple bogey.

Tiger Woods on the other hand, unaffected and composed as ever, went on to slip the ball for another birdie on a nerve-wracking back-9. The challenger was shattered while Tiger just strolled past him with nothing but a frozen look and sheer determination on his face. For him, the game isn’t dependent on risks, challenges or the burden of standing up to his own standards – at least when he’s ruling the roost. In his rule book, the game is as simple as it gets: he plays the course, never the opponent. And no matter for how many years we’ve watched this genius pile up the laurels, a reminder to his fans couldn’t have been scripted any better than this moment – the vintage Tiger has surely arrived.

What followed was another title — in what has been a splendid start to the new season — and the World No.1 title after three tormenting years for Tiger. Moments like these, when one’s mind is gushed with irrational sentiments, nostalgia and even a hint of redemption, all Tiger could come up with was a strange and rather bewildering response for the occasion. Woods said that he doesn’t want to be as good as he was in his very prime – he wants to be better than that.

But the question is whether it’s really possible?

Better than a 12-stroke win at the Masters? Or better than his pompous streaks of the early 2000s? His average golfing stint on a tense Sunday afternoon would set the pace for others even with the strongest field up to compete with. He has had moments when he clinched all the four Majors in one go but to better those moments, even on his current run would be a bit too much to ask for.

Tiger, no doubt has had a lot of work done on his new swing with Sean Foley. In fact, a 45-minute crash-course from Steve Stricker – one the best putters in the game – also eased Woods’ worries on the dicey greens.

“Steve has been a friend of mine since I came out here [on tour]. And he is also one of the best putters that has ever lived. So anything he says about putting, I am going to listen to.”

                                            – Tiger, on his putting lessons from Steve Stricker ahead of the WGC-Cadillac event.

His par-5 score of 13 under par for the weekend at Bay Hill couldn’t be bettered by the likes of Rose and Fowler, who were playing the best golf of the season. Tiger, in the past few weeks, has been the string-puller from the go. However, the perfectionist that he is, Tiger would know that he still needs to shake off a few numbers before he could actually compete with his own monstrous standards.

Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by MasterCard - Round Three

Woods holes a putt for eagle at the par 5, 16th hole during the third round of the 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational on March 23, 2013. (Getty Images)

To be fair, the statement that a consistent Tiger is still a couple of steps ahead than the rest of the field, stills hold a lot of weight. His performances haven’t been straight out of the Tiger manual this season, yet he has racked up 3 wins in his last 5 starts this season. Scores of 69-70-66-70, only reiterate the fact that he was never compelled to switch gears throughout the weekend. He missed 40 percent of the fairways and his approach hits were 2-feet short of the field average, yet he was barely made to grind on his way to the 8th win on Bay Hill this Monday.

Also, the mapping of his preparatory road to the Masters has been spot on, as winning on his hunting grounds of Torrey Pines, Doral and Bay Hill didn’t really surprise the onlookers either. Tiger is selective about his appearances on the Tour, but he’s well aware how to seize the key moment enroute to the Majors.

When it comes to the Majors and the talk of the greatest of all time, even Jack Nicklaus has admitted that ‘18’ is just an overrated number. Winning as many as him or surpassing the count wouldn’t really matter a lot in changing the overall setting of the sport. However, someone forgot to tell this to Tiger, who for years now has been comparing his trophy cabinet to Nicklaus’. Way back when Tiger was competing for his first world title, he had a list of Nicklaus’ milestones taped in his closet – a subtle reminder of the path that he has sketched for himself.

He probably still looks for a pencil to strike off on every momentous Sunday, and that may only end when the list loses its importance to this genius. And for mortals like us, all we could figure out is that he still has four Major leaps that separate him from his obsession, if there was ever one to spur his ambitions.

Tiger is back?

Of course he is, and that hasn’t been a question for a quite a long time now. Maybe it’s a ringing afterthought that would still need some shrugging off in the upcoming weeks. Yet, for the fans and more so for Tiger, this old-school redemption setting would only conclude in a rather perfect ending when that famous green jacket of Augusta is slipped back on the shoulders of its favourite conqueror.

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Hardik Vyas
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