Tiger Woods took home another tournament trophy Sunday, ninth in his last twelve events on Tour. 9 of 12 — the statistic is mind-blowing in this game. But the really astonishing thing is this: he wins now by means quite different, and more admirable, than he used to.
In this victory in Charlotte, on the superb and mysterious Quail Hollow Club, with a loaded field — I believe the CBS anchor said 27 out of the top 30 players in the world — Mr. Woods won by two strokes and it could have been more. He played several poor or unimpressive shots, or just unlucky ones, first on a wild stretch on Saturday’s rain-delayed third round, which included a hole-in eagle by Vijay Singh, and then again, improbably, on Sunday. But in the end, Tiger Woods won this up-and-coming event by his mastery of what is most succinctly called the Tough Par Putt.
Yes, he still drives longer than almost anyone on Tour (I heard an on-the-course broadcaster call out something like 347 yards on one drive Saturday); and yes, he still has marvelous touch in his short game; and yes, he can still manage the most elegant and fatal iron play, as at last years’ British Open. He still has all those things, but now he has something better than them all: mastery of the Tough Par Putt.
I guess recklessly that a par putt, for a professional golfer, is the point of most stress in any big round. The rest of us may dread double-boogie putts, and find birdie putts so rare that little can be said systematically about them at all, but these guys sweat pars — especially on holes where they feel they had a good shot at lower numbers. Often a par putt is the natural issue of a miscalculation or miss-hit. Overcook a five-wood going for the green in two on a par 5, and next thing you know your putting for a “very important” par, and the crowd is nervous; or get a lucky bounce on a really bad shot, where the par putt feels like a gift: that’s pressure, baby.
A second characteristic of the Tough Par Putt is that it is longer than is comfortable: twelve feet on a straight putt, say, or eight on a slippery one. All the psychological pressures mentioned above are now exacerbated by the intensity of the task required.
And what does Tiger do with such putts? Roll them into the hole, that’s what: almost every one in the hole. He putts best when the situation is toughest. He follows bad shots with steely and brilliant ones. He does not fail make gift shots fruitful. This is an amazing power.
And it is an admirable power, because it bespeaks as much discipline and practice as it does raw talent.
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Why oh why, you may ask, do I watch golf on TV? I will give three reasons independent of the game of golf itself. (1) It is a slow game, and children do not like watching it; ergo, they wander off and play, sometimes together, leaving me alone. (2) The commercial-set is much classier that standard fare, which admittedly is not saying much; but at least you are not bombarded by lewdness and deceit. (3) The broadcast announcers are not incorrigible blowhards, but rather more often than not clever, amusing, or thoughtful men.