Tiger Woods’ eighth victory in the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday proves he owns Firestone Country Club.
But it does not prove he’s back.
It does not prove that the world’s No. 1 golfer has returned to his level of dominance from 1999-2001, which included the feat of holding all four major titles.
On Sunday, with his 4-year-old son, Charlie, watching him win for the first time, Woods ran off with his fifth triumph of the year in stunning fashion, his 15-under total of 265 beating Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson by 7 shots. Woods ended all suspense when he tied the South Course record with a 61 on Friday, leaving CBS to spice up its broadcast with highlights from his previous 14 visits to Akron. (The crazy hop over the clubhouse never gets old.)
But until Woods breaks his five-year drought in major championships, I’m not ready to say we’re witnessing a reincarnation of the old Woods.
I will change my mind if he wins the PGA Championship next week at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, N.Y. But the odds are in my favor, no matter what the bookmakers say.
Of his 14 major victories, only four have come when Woods won in his previous start. The last time it happened was in 2007, when he followed up his Bridgestone triumph by winning the PGA at Southern Hills.
The last time the PGA was played at Oak Hill, in 2003, Shaun Micheel took the Wanamaker Trophy with a score of 4 under par and Woods tied for 39th.
Although coming from behind is not his trademark, he has not shot a final round in the 60s in his 11 events this year. In 2000, when he won nine tournaments, he did it 15 times. In 1999, when he won eight events, he accomplished it seven.
What Woods has proved this year is he can play his favorites. His five victories have come at courses where he’s won 35 times.
He also rules at Bay Hill (where he’s won eight Arnold Palmer Invitationals), Torrey Pines (seven Farmer’s Insurance Opens, one U.S. Open), and Doral (seven WGC-Cadillac Championships, two Ford Championships). In that regard, his 2013 victory that proved the most came in The Players Championship at TPC-Sawgrass, where he’s won only twice (the first time in 2001).
Asked if he had to win and was given the choice of playing Firestone, Bay Hill or Torrey Pines, he copped out and asked, “Can I play six holes on each?” His answer drew laughter but not satisfaction. “Come on, that was a good answer,” he chided.
At 37, Woods doesn’t seem to be as adaptable as he once was. After tying for sixth at the British Open, he complained he had a hard time adjusting to the speed of the greens. After tying for 32nd at the U.S. Open at Merion, it was the high rough and tough pin placements. After tying for fourth at the Masters Tournament, he said the green speeds were different all four days. When asked about Oak Hill, where he played a practice round on Tuesday, he said the rough was already up.
The excuses could point to a psychological issue, not a mechanical one. Some have suggested that Woods has a mental block in majors.
There is a sense of urgency for Woods to break through in a major. He insists this year’s PGA is no bigger, but I can’t imagine many in the interview room bought that.
“Do I want it any more?” he said. “No, it’s the same. Each and every major, I always want them. I’ve been successful 14 times and hopefully next week will be 15.”
On Sunday, Woods earned his 79th tour victory, three away from Sam Snead’s PGA Tour record. The PGA is promoting it heavily, even printing a booklet to compare Woods’ and Snead’s statistics. But it’s Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors Woods has coveted since he was a youngster.
Woods said even his children — daughter Sam, 6, and Charlie — have nothing but victories on their minds.
“They always say, ‘Daddy, when are you going to win the tournament?’ ” Woods said Sunday. “It was a couple years I hadn’t won anything in a while. [The] last couple years have been a little bit better. They always want to know what place I’m in. ‘Are you leading or not?’ That’s a stock question. ‘Not leading? Well, are you going to start leading?’ ‘Well, I’m trying.’ ”
Trying too hard, perhaps, at least when it comes to majors.
Sharing the Bridgestone victory with Charlie might be the special moment Woods needs to win next week. For five days at Firestone, Woods seemed more human than I’ve ever seen him. His answers were thoughtful; his acknowledgements of the crowd’s cheers seemed more genuine. Even handing a golf ball to 8-year-old Sophia Carpenter of Dalton on Friday was out of character.
The only victory Sam saw was his last major victory, the 2008 U.S. Open. (He doesn’t count the 2007 PGA, when she was less than 2 months old.) Sam was on the green during the trophy presentation at Torrey Pines, which Woods said Sam loves watching on YouTube.
Now, instead of thinking about whether the rough is up or wondering if he can master the speed of the greens, Woods has a memory with Charlie to draw from and cherish. That might be the visual he needs to break through his major fog.
Then there should be no doubt he’s back.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.