Tiger turns back the clock to contend at Valspar

by Gary Shelton on March 10, 2018 · 2 comments

in general, Golf

Tiger Woods_68

Tiger thrilled the fans at the Valspar./CARMEN MANDATO

Saturday, 3 a.m.

His driver carried the controversy. It sailed, straight and true, toward the fairway, just the way it used to all those years ago when the world was young.

His 7-iron tucked around trouble. It flew, bending slightly to the right, past all the pain of all his injuries.

His wedge flopped the ball onto the green perfectly, downhill from the hole, and nestled nicely into 2007. Long before the doubts set in.

And his putt? That was on line, too, bending slightly at the end, just perfect, and falling into the cup. From here,  you can see forgiveness.

Yeah, the world belonged to the guy who used to be Tiger Woods again Friday. Once again, he strode across a golf course as if it was his,

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Tiger has one round to go and he's in the hunt./CARMEN MANDATO

Tiger has one round to go and he's in the hunt./CARMEN MANDATO

and you could not turn your head. Fans would have trampled Jordan Speith and Rory McElroy to get a glimpse of Tiger. Once again, he was a force. He may not win this Valspar Championship, but if not, he will have much to say about who does.

The crowd was all Tiger's. They lined the course, living on every shot, soaking in the happening of the event. Once again, Tiger was a Beatle. He was Elvis. He was George Clooney, hanging out with his best buddy Bob Dylan.

This is how it used to be for Woods every week, when the world was a perfect lie, when the best golfers in the world fell at his feet. Has it really been a decade since he won a major? Has it really been almost 1,000 days since he won any kind of tournament? Have we all grown old waiting for him to win again, to overcome the injuries and the controversies and the ill feelings?

And could this finally be the week that the world stops waiting?

The road finished with Tiger tied for second, two shots behind Corey Conners. He's tied with Paul Casey, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Palmer and Kelly Kraft.

"I had been away from the game from competing for a year," Woods said." I didn't know really what to expect, what I was going to do, how I was going to do it. The green light was only given to me a month prior to the tournament. I've come a long way in a span of time.

Woods finished his round on Friday with a share of the lead in the Valspar. He finished tied for second. He bogeyed his 18th hole, one of the few glitches on the day, but still finished with a 68, It was the kind of score that promises excitement over the last two days, and finally, America is ready for it.

By and large, we are a forgiving nation. You can win a home run title with steroids pumping through your veins, and you can win a bicycle race with someone else's blood, and you can twist your wedding vows beyond all recognition. Eventually, however, the American public will feel your pain. Just be honest, and keep working, and the country will come back.

Look, Woods made a mess of his marriage. But he didn't leave bodies on the sidewalk, and he didn't print his own money and, as far as anyone knows, he didn't cheat the game.

And so the crowds cheered his name with gusto on Friday. Most sports fans operate a few years behind as it is, and on this day, Woods was young again. That bald spot on the crown of his head wasn't as pronounced, and his back was calm for a day as he shot five birdies.

"I've got a long way to go, 36 holes," Woods said. "The wind is going to be totally different, conditions are going to be different, come close to coming out of the south this weekend. Ball be flying a little bit further. Be a completely different test than what we had last couple days."

Just like that, no one else mattered. Not really. The course was Tiger's, and it was a one-man performance.

"I'm up there," he said,  "At least I'm there with a chance going into the weekend. Today was a good day."

Imagine being Woods these days. The world still watches you, still wants to believe in you. It has been a long time since you have won, but no one really wants to count you out. Oh, some fans have been lost forever. But some still cling to the way you make them feel.

“Could I have envisioned myself being here? No,” Woods said. “My surgeon hadn't told me I was fused. If I'm not fused, this is a totally different game. Am I going to feel what I did for the last four, five years or am I going to be like this?”

Look, the odds are still against Woods. He hasn't played a lot of golf, and he may run out of gas. But the odds don't care about a good story; we do. And so we watch him, hoping to see his next big accomplishment.

"Obviously, this is a very difficult golf course," Woods said. "The margin is very small. I enjoy that aspect where par is a reward. I don't feel like I'm behind if I make four pars in a row. You make a couple birdies here you shoot up the board. I like that kind of golf. I like that kind of test."

The rest of us like it, too. We'd love to see Tiger on the prowl again. We'd love to see his eyes sharpen and his putts roll in. We'd love to see him get into contention for a final day charge.

After all the miles, and all the scars, and all the controversies, is that too much to ask?



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