On Sunday evening just outside of Washington D.C., something rather ordinary happened. Well, ordinary in the grand scheme of golf. Tiger Woods won his third PGA Tour event of 2012, taking home the AT&T National, his host event, with weekend rounds of 67-69.
The victory made him the only man in the past two years with three or more wins in a season. It put him atop the FedEx Cup points standings. But way more important than all of that, it put Tiger Woods back in a place that Tiger Woods was always meant to be: it put Tiger back into "majors only mode."
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Since Tiger's win at the 1997 Masters, "winning" changed for the guy. While every other PGA Tour player in history is graded on how they do in each event, Tiger's report card only had four subjects: Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and the PGA Championship. Nothing else mattered.
His personal struggles in 2009 changed all that, but this week, at this tough course where the 2011 U.S. Open was played, a victory meant something different. It meant we can stop judging Tiger on everyday PGA Tour events, and start looking at the big ones again.
There are few more scrutinized athletes in the history of sports. The guy's life has been examined since his old straw hat days at TPC Sawgrass, and part of why we expect so much from him is what he showed us early in his career. Runaway wins at Augusta National, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, the three pinnacle golf venues in the world, were indications of how good he can be. It never seemed like a fluke that he would get his game up for majors, especially the ones played on those iconic golf courses, and when he was really in a groove, fans stopped caring about wins and cared only about legacy.
"Oh, Tiger won six events in a row? How has he fared in the seventh?" "Tiger won the Masters and the U.S. Open? Do you really think he could win the Grand Slam?"
To say he never got a fair shake isn't true. Fans adored Tiger when he was winning, and have rooted hard for his return to greatness. His fall to grace in 2009 might end up being a good thing for Tiger Woods, as strange as that sounds, because it was the first time we got to see him hit the mat, wondering how he would do at getting back up.
Much has been said about when "Tiger will be back." It's a ridiculous argument mainly because what Tiger did in stretches during his career are things that will never be recreated. Tiger won four consecutive majors (insane). Tiger won five of six majors (are you kidding me?). Tiger combined to beat the field at the Opens in 2000 by 23 shots (god-like).
But Tiger's golf game has returned full force. He might not "be back," but he's back to being Tiger when it counts. You can look at that chip shot he hit at the Memorial as a shot only Tiger seems to pull off or the putt he hit on Sunday that seemed to find the center of the cup the same way Tiger always seems to in the past, but the win simply said to the world, "This golf game I'm bringing is back to being better than everyone else's and I'm now the favorite each week no matter the course."
So we are back to the majors. That's the scale. The British Open in two weeks, and then the PGA, and then back to Augusta National in 2013. Nothing else matters anymore for Woods. He has proved he can beat anyone at any event, and continues to do it either ahead of the pack or chasing (remember, his 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic was only a shot away from forcing Rory McIlroy to play extra holes with him).
It's back to normalcy for Woods, as weird as that is. The guy that always formed his schedule around the big four events will once again be the favorite by a long shot at the next few majors, but now more for how he's playing than his name.
It isn't about Jack Nicklaus' record anymore. It's simply about Tiger Woods 2012, and what he's doing (again) to professional golf. The man might have made us forget how good he can be for a few years, and had people question how he would do with the rest of his career, but he has showed us the past four months that he's still Tiger Woods, and we should be embracing his greatness once more.
I'll apologize now to all the other pro golfers out there.