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Alternate Shot: Another win shows what's back for Tiger is fear factor

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Tiger brings a lot more than his game and power to intimidate to a Sunday round of golf. (Getty Images)  
Tiger brings a lot more than his game and power to intimidate to a Sunday round of golf. (Getty Images)  

CBSSports.com golf writers Steve Elling and Shane Bacon take a gander at a few of golf's latest developments in their weekly Monday tête-à-tête, Alternate Shot.

For once, the rumbles and grumbles emanating from Washington, D.C., were worth a listen.

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It wasn't the usual partisan blather about political posturing, demonizing the other side, or relating to matters that skew toward the far left or right -- though that's where a few of Tiger Woods' competitors at Congressional were hitting the ball during crunch time.

No, this was the collective feedback from an overflow gallery at AT&T National as it watched Woods become only the second player in three seasons to win three times on the PGA Tour.

By Sunday night, a flick of the television channel caught a snippet from Stuart Scott on ESPN asking in a SportsCenter teaser, "Is Tiger back?"

No offense, but to a large degree that question has already been answered. The rest is just a subjective exercise of again comparing Woods to the toughest yardstick in the history of the game -- himself.

As Woods continues his assault on the top of the world rankings -- he plays again this week in West Virginia -- Steve Elling and Shane Bacon take the measure of a surprisingly redemptive season so far.

  

Forget the drumbeat idiocy of the is-he-back brigade. How ominous is the sound of Sunday's victory in the grand scheme?

Elling: This is all about context, to the degree that it can be painted. Has Woods made a return to his form of, say, 2008, when he was rolling up majors, minors and everything in between? No. But that doesn't mean he's not the best player out there already. That's the ominous part, really.

For those of us paid to pay attention, we can all see he's winning quality events (Bay Hill, Memorial) and still has another gear he hasn't yet reached. Mostly for comedic effect, I once asked if the pieces of Humpty Dumpty could ever be reassembled. Well, somebody has been playing in the Crazy Glue. He's still got plenty of cracks, but most of the major pieces have fallen into place. It makes you wonder what will happen if he ever has a really good putting week or figures out a way to hit a green in regulation from 125 yards.

A few weeks back, there was some Twitter chatter among the golf beat guys about how many times Woods would win in 2012. The over/under for total victories, as I recall, was set at 2.5. There were not a lot of takers, and this was purely for fun, on the over.

Bacon: As I noted earlier, Tiger's career is back to being all about the majors, but winning his third PGA Tour event in 2012 shows again he is unlike anyone else. What could Tiger end up with by year's end? I think four or five PGA Tour wins, including a major, and I was really adamant before the season started that he wouldn't win more than twice.

The way he's won all three events this year tells just how talented Tiger is. At Bay Hill, he didn't hit his driver that well. He was impressive at the Memorial, but let some shots get away from him early in the week, and even at Congressional, his wedge game remained suspect. The scary part about Tiger's third win is that he got it by playing his B+ game. Step that up a notch, and this could be 2001 all over again.

  

What's your biggest takeaway from the Woods win, be it from the delivery or details?

Elling: Honestly, this one will be remembered as looking a lot like Woods' many victories of the past -- and it had nothing to do with how he played. Only a few months back, many of us had espoused the view that players were no longer going to faint at the sight of Woods' shadow on crucial Sundays, but that's essentially what happened at Congressional Country Club. Bo Van Pelt had Tiger by the collar and hit three sloppy shots in succession on the par-5 16th that gave him a free pass.

At the awards ceremony, for the second time, Woods (the tourney host) got to effectively hand the trophy to himself (tourney winner). Well, guys like Brendon de Jonge and Van Pelt had all but handed it to him. It was just like old times in that regard. Guys with zero Tiger-related scar tissue still folded. Now, whether that related mostly to the pressure of the moment or the presence of Woods himself is debatable. Maybe both. But it happened, and it reeked of 2005. The circumstances of the victory were all too familiar -- Woods perhaps played the best, but others fainted in serial fashion.

Bacon: It is, simply, that Tiger is the best in the world right now and it's the first time in years you can say that. He can beat anyone on any course and he seems to be in a groove that doesn't require his best stuff to win. Tiger is intimidating people, hitting clutch shots, and making the putts he has to make at the right time. Tiger has struggled in the past at getting everything out of his game for 72 holes, even if it wasn't exactly what it took to win, but now he is able to hold his game together and pick up wins. I hate to get all broadcaster on you, but the guy could win four times in a row and I don't think anyone would be shocked by it. That is definitely the first time since the limp at Torrey Pines that you could say that and not just be vying for extra website clicks.

  

In news that few noticed, a team of American collegians lost the Palmer Cup to the Europeans last week in Ireland. Does the U.S. hold a "cup" of any kind at the moment?

Elling: Does the Presidents Cup count, the only significant international team event that doesn't include the Euros? Otherwise, it's a complete European stranglehold for both the professionals and amateurs at all the meaningful contests -- the Ryder, Solheim, Walker and Curtis cups all are camped on foreign soil.

The Palmer Cup, which features college players, was a lot like the Walker and Solheim matches of last year. That is, the Americans toppled like debutants in singles play, losing seven of eight matches to blow a commanding lead on the final day.

What does it all mean? Hey, it reinforces the obvious -- the Yanks stink at team play. Whether it's the individualistic mindset of the States or an inability to execute the game's match-play nuances, this marks the first time in history that the Ryder, Solheim, Walker and Curtis have been held by the other side. The fact that the U.S. collegians fainted only suggests that when it comes to the boys and girls across the Pond, the tide isn't about to change soon.

Bacon: The funny thing about this question is for the first time in years I've thought that the Americans were hands-down the best team heading into a Ryder Cup. You're going to argue with me? The last three major winners are American. Tiger Woods is obviously playing great golf. Guys like Dustin Johnson and Hunter Mahan are rounding into form, and the veterans the Americans will put up this year are as solid as they come. Sure, you can focus on the fact that a lot of the American teams have struggled, but I think the Ryder Cup will be a turning point for the red, white and blue.

  

Last week's European Tour event at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland was a spectacular success. If the Royal & Ancient Golf Club wanted a test run before awarding a British Open to an Irish locale, what's stopping them now?

Elling: We've been beating this drum ever since Padraig Harrington started piling up majors five years ago, and the hangups have as much to do with political ramifications as economic ones. Sure, we love twisting the arm of the R&A, a stuffy lot that makes the U.S. Golf Association look like a gang of hippie liberals in Birkenstock cleats. But that does not change the climate.

The British Open is staged annually during a time of unstable political protest in Ireland. The country's economic climate is a mess. The R&A makes most of its subsistence off the event, and the infusion of corporate monies would likely take a huge hit in Ireland. So, sure, while the Irish Open last week drew the first sold-out crowd at a regular European Tour event in history, with over 100,000 fans -- an incredible feat in a country of that size -- there remain massive hurdles.

What about the logistics? Portrush is located roughly an hour from Belfast, the nearest town with any sort of hotel infrastructure. Buses and trains helped last week as the locals turned out in droves, but much of an international British Open crowd would need restaurants and lodging. Not as easy as it sounds, is it? After decades of watching the United Kingdom fans have all the fun, the Emerald Isle deserves a major, especially with McDowell, McIlroy, Clarke and Harrington having all won majors of late. But that's the romantic notion. The pragmatists at the R&A have other issues with which to wrestle. How hard do they really want to work to solve them?

Bacon: If you think getting to Portrush presents obstacles, you obviously must have slept through the British at Turnberry.

Still, give the Irish a British. It's insane not to. The place is thriving with talented professional golfers and obviously can bring a crowd to an event. If the R&A really doesn't want to take the Claret Jug west, the Irish should offer a challenge: a two-team charity event to see who gets the next British Open, with four players the Irish bring against whatever four England and Scotland want to play. It would be great for ratings, could earn some money for charity and would have Irish players seriously competing to have one of the four majors at home. If nothing else, it would give golf fans something to watch in the winter.

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