Eschewing power for accuracy, Tiger Woods delivers a steely performance at Hoylake that flusters his opponents, quiets his doubters—and honors his father
Think of his 11th major title as an amalgam of qualities borrowed from the third, fourth and seventh of those triumphs, which isn’t to say Tiger Woods is running out of fresh ideas. The near-flawless iron play bore a (ball) striking resemblance to that mind-blowing performance at the 2000 U.S. Open. A week in Great Britain without visiting a fairway pot bunker? It’s just a slightly modified sequel to the sand-free safari at St. Andrews one month after he had pulverized Pebble Beach.
As for Woods’ ability to drop an anvil on the hopes of every big-name contender on a star-stacked leader board, one might refer to the 2002 Masters, when five of the game’s top seven players turned what should have been a memorable Sunday afternoon into an audition for the role of Wile E. Coyote in the old “Road Runner” cartoons. Tiger’s success in protecting 54-hole leads—he is 11-0—is nothing short of amazing. So is his habit of turning formidable foes into hapless cartoon characters.
For all the recurring themes and busted dreams, however, the 135th British Open forged more than enough of its own identity to avoid classification as a cheap imitation. Let’s start right where it ended: Woods sobbing uncontrollably in the arms of his caddie, Steve Williams, the stream of tears merging sadness and joy like few moments in golf history. More than our first look at the game’s coldest-blooded competitor surrendering to such emotional vulnerability, what made Tiger’s weeping so powerful was the swiftness in which it happened.
Not five seconds after tapping in for par and a two-stroke victory over Chris DiMarco last Sunday evening at Royal Liverpool, Woods would have melted on the 18th green’s dead grass had Williams loosened his grasp. Their hug seemed to last forever, which wasn’t long enough. From there, Woods moved directly to his wife, Elin, and an entire universe of golf fans witnessed another unedited scene of reality TV. For one unforgettable minute, the world’s best golfer—maybe the best ever to walk the earth—was just a boy who wanted his daddy.
You didn’t get that at the ’02 Masters.
So Woods is back, forever at a loss since the May 3 death of his father, Earl, forever a champion after this latest how-to-win clinic. “I wish he could have seen it one more time,” Tiger said of the man who articulated his vision in myths and made his son a legend. “I was pretty bummed out after not winning the Masters because I knew it was the last major he was ever going to see. That one hurt a little bit.”
A little history never hurt anyone. Woods’ third claret jug tied him with Walter Hagen for second place in career professional major victories, a feat that may take a while to sink in. He became the first player to win back-to-back British Opens since Tom Watson (1982-83), took the lead on the PGA Tour’s 2006 money list, and officially rinsed away the aftertaste of that missed cut at last month’s U.S. Open.
What shouldn’t get lost in all the bookkeeping is that Woods led the field last week in driving accuracy, which is like Fred Flintstone winning an Oscar for Best Actor. Tiger missed just eight of 56 fairways. Of course, he used his driver just once in 72 holes—on the par-5 16th in the first round—which only prompted the game’s political extremists to decry the notion that someone could shoot 18 under par at a major championship without the aid of the club that usually accounts for about 60 percent of a venue’s overall length.