THE roars came early and often at Bellerive. In fact, they were heard as soon as Tiger Woods arrived at the Country Club yesterday in his trademark red-and-black ensemble, but with shades and a cap worn backwards for good measure. Four strokes back and with seemingly no chance of snagging his first major title in 10 years, he clearly remained the sport’s biggest draw. And he thrived in the limelight, going about his business on the range and practice green, and then on the course, with purpose.
Indeed, there’s no better sight for casual fans and avid followers alike than that of Woods in contention at a Grand Slam event with 18 holes left to play. It’s one with the familiar six-deep crowds and rock-star atmosphere, with the boisterous yelling and hearty cheers, with the air of anticipation engulfing the competition. And, yet, even as yesterday’s fourth round of the PGA Championship exhibited the same old, same old, it ultimately proved to be a unique experience.
Granted, Woods made his expected surge from the get-go, and, late on the front nine, stood just one shot behind provisional leader Brooks Koepka. And, granted, he did it in a fashion only he was capable of doing; even as he battled his swing and came up with dreaded two-way misses, he managed to grind out save after save — from the rough, from the sand, under trees, close to the water. In short, he was being, well, himself, but better; in the midst of his determined march up the leaderboard, he chucked his “I am an island” stance when sniffing the hardware and actually interacted with those around him.
Concordantly, the version of Woods that showed up yesterday was — gasp — so easy to like between shots. He exchanged jokes with playing partner Gary Woodland and high-fived spectators as if he were just staking out the terrain on a leisurely stroll instead of trying to win a 15th major. Even at crucial stages in his comeback, he looked like he was enjoying himself, instances rarely seen since he took the pro ranks by storm in late 1996 and never — never ever — when he’s casting moist eyes on the hardware.
And guess what? Woods’ decidedly sunnier disposition worked for him yesterday. As playing partner Woodland noted, the score he carded seemed like a cakewalk and could have been much better. “Sixty-four, and it looked pretty easy, to be honest with you.” Well, it also just happens to be his best final-round score in a Grand Slam event. At an old 42, with four back surgeries and five monumental swing changes, he’s still breaking new ground.
Which is all well and good. If there’s anything Woods’ Cinderella finish over the weekend underscored, it’s that his time will come again. He may no longer dominate the field like he did for a decade after the turn of the century, but he will win anew, and plenty. And he will be better appreciated, what with his flawed self making way to his humbled self. Heck, he even stuck around on the scoring trailer to congratulate Koepka for the triumph.
Inside the ropes, Woods will no longer be as invincible as he once was, and not simply because two bones in his spine are fused. From the outside looking in, though, he has already won. For all his accomplishments as arguably the best ever to hold a club, he’s securing his legacy by being a decent human being. Imagine that.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports Section in 1994.