June 19, 2008

Looking Up From The B Flight

Seeing Woods from the ground below

As his game soars to new heights, Woods sees nobody about him.

As his game soars to new heights, Woods sees nobody about him.

As Ernie Els was saying, Tiger Woods missed a heck of a U.S. Open. Els tied Miguel Angel Jiménez for first place in the B Flight, and there were 53 other golfers within 15 shots of the lead. That's as close as anybody came to Woods, but he toured Pebble Beach last week as a noncompeting marker. "Unbelievable," groused Els. "I played the last 18 holes with Tiger, but we weren't playing the same game." There was Georgia Tech beating Cumberland, 222-0, in college football and there was Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes by 31 lengths and now this. "How do we slow Tiger down? You know, I have a brother who is really, really strong ... "

And so goes the evolution of Tiger's genius. One need not consult ancient history to locate a time when experts theorized that Woods didn't possess enough of a well-rounded game to win an Open. He lacked patience, too. These opinions were issued as recently as 1997 and 1998, at Congressional and Olympic. But last June, he served notice at Pinehurst by tieing for third and last week he took the next step by tieing one on at the B Flight's expense.

We can't say we weren't warned. Before embarking on his pillaging and plundering of Pebble, Woods allowed that he was somewhat vexed about his putting. It wasn't that his putts weren't dropping. No, he didn't like the way they were dropping. I am not making this up. The ball just didn't look or sound right entering the cup. The next time I win a Jaguar, remind me to complain about the size of the hood ornament.

"He's in another dimension," praised Els, who led the B Flight by one swing after 54 holes and thus was paired with Woods Sunday. An imposing man, Els mulled drastic maneuvers to solve his deficit: "I considered squeezing Tiger in a bearhug, or arm-wrestling him, or just tackling him. But that wouldn't work, because on top of everything else, Tiger is getting stronger every day, too. I don't know what we're going to do with him."

Obviously, Open wounds that affected the B Flighters failed to mess with Woods, who was fog-proof, rough resistant and wind immune. Even bizarre tee times fit his biological clock. He didn't begin his second round until 4:40 p.m. Friday, an unfinished symphony he didn't resume until 6:30 a.m. Saturday. After that nine, he waited until 3:19 that afternoon to post 71 in a gale.

While extenuating circumstances zapped mortal B Flighters, the paranormal Woods underscored how acutely tough he is, what an athlete he is. Only if they had penalized Woods 10 strokes for profanity would he have come back to the field. Yes, he swore for all to hear after his 18th-hole tee ball hit the rocks Saturday morning, regrettably when millions of youngsters probably passed on cartoons for a glimpse of the world's coolest, hippest athlete. Woods polluted the air, no doubt about it.

But he said he was sorry and the next note of apology might come from Johnny Miller, NBC's candid and popular analyst, who stated that Michael Jordan never was caught with his mouth so full of footprints. True and false. Jordan was never wired for sound as golfers are. Had he been, Jordan's hyphens would have stretched from Pebble Beach to Daytona Beach. When the game was on, Jordan talked trash and worried about opponents' feelings later.

Woods is every bit as possessed and, as Jack Nicklaus volunteered, golf should give thanks that Tiger can look past that fortune of his and still care about trophies. Likewise, NBC and its sensitive microphones should feel blessed to have had Woods as the leading man for Saturday Night Live Golf, even if he was lapping the field. NBC, which made millions off Jordan, should know all about prime-time superstars. As for Tiger's language, he'll learn. He's learned everything else in a relatively short while, including how to play a U.S. Open. Make that, play with a U.S. Open.

Mind you, Woods did use a new ball here. I'm not sure he wouldn't have won using a beachball, but that doesn't conform to legal standards, so here's a suggestion. At the British Open next month, Tiger must play with the same ball that's used by the B Flighters. It doesn't go as far or as straight, it doesn't finish 12 under par at Pebble Beach, and it doesn't win the U.S. Open by 15 shots.

As Ernie Els was saying, Tiger Woods defies description right about now. But we should save some adjectives, because we'll need them for the next 20 or 30 years.