It is impossible to say at this time whether Tiger Woods still has a chance to break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship victories.
It is unlikely if you assess it pragmatically. He is 46 years old, he walks with a noticeable lameness from his rebuilt right leg, he has a surgically fused spine and there are times when he can not resist using a club as if it were a stick while gently navigating the uneven. terrain on a golf course.
But what’s clear, after seeing the 15-time major champion last weekend at the Masters, is he will continue to try. He is willing to endure the pain the future holds, just to keep trying. And while no one knows for sure what really motivates him at this point in his life, the twilight of Tiger Woods’ career seems to have little to do with ambition or legacy. He continues instead of one last act because of something that mostly eluded him throughout his career.
He’s having fun at long last.
It feels like a strange thing to write about it is arguably the most ruthless competitor the sport has ever seen. At the height of Woods’ powers, it felt as if he would go a whole week on a major and hardly make eye contact with anyone. He lived in his own private universe, uniquely driven, determined never to show merely a hint of vulnerability. But surviving a car accident a little over a year ago, one that almost cost him his right leg, seems to have inspired Woods to see the golf he has left in a different light.
“Grateful,” Woods said Sunday night, smiling when asked what his biggest takeaway would be from his week. “I keep saying it, but it’s me. It’s me really. It’s me really.”
There were plenty of times last week where he grimaced, a handful of times where he cursed and even a few times where it looked like he was going to crack a club. The fire to compete is still burning, and will probably always do so. It was – in its own way – comforting. He’s not content with just showing up as a ceremonial golfer, and he thinks he still has a chance to conjure up some magic.
“He does not want to play to play,” said Fred Couples, one of Woods’ closest friends. “He can play at home. He can enjoy his children, play with them every single day and have the time of his life.”
But Tiger also did things he never did when chasing a major championship: He played a training round with his son, Charlie, prior to the week. He tooted a group sms with Justin Thomas and couple. He recognized the amount between the holes. He chatted brilliantly with his playing partners. He even laughed when he answered the journalists’ questions after each round. Absent were the icy glances, the thousand-meter-long glances. Even in the heat of the competition, he could not help but smile.
“It’s been a tough road, and a road that I’m very grateful to have the opportunity to be able to drive through,” Woods said. “A lot of different things could have happened, but after 14 months I’m able to start up and play in the Masters … This tournament has meant so much to me and my family.”
When he hobbled against the 16th green on Sunday, the place where he took control of the 2019 Masters with an exciting birdie, one could not see on his facial expression that he was on his way to a 47th place, his lowest as a pro at the Masters. Woods started laughing as the guests got up to shower him with affection, he and Jon Rahm took the time to get to the green. CBS reported a repeat of Woods’ dramatic chip-in from 2005, but for the first time, a brief detour into the past was felt, though it meant seeing Woods at his best, less interesting than the present.
Woods could not stop smiling as the roar began to swell. He tipped on the cap several times and almost looked like the sheep as he repaired his bullet mark. As he ran his birdie putt just past the hole, he responded not with disgust but with pleasure and waved to the crowd again after hitting in to par. It was a version of Tiger Woods, the 16th hole at Augusta National had never seen before, and there was something special about it too.
“It’s really cool,” Rahm said. “It was really great because no one cared about me, so I just watched him play. It was a spectator more.”
As Woods and Rahm were about to finish their final round, Scottie Scheffler was in the process of her coronation. Woods’ influence on Scheffler could not be missed even though he ran away with the tournament.
“I played Tiger’s Iron, wore his shoes, wore his shirt this week,” said the 25-year-old first-time major winner. “Tiger on the golf course is just ridiculous. He’s done so much for the game of golf. We’re so happy to have him out here again.”
No one, not even Tiger Woods, knows what kind of golf we will see from him in the future. He said after his round that he plans to play in The Open Championship in July at The Old Course in St. Louis. Andrews.
“It’s something close and dear to my heart,” Woods said. “I won two Opens there. It’s the home of golf, and it’s my favorite course in the world. I want to be there for it.”
Beyond that, he undertook no other obligations than that he promised to strengthen his leg. He had to approach his golf future one ice bath at a time. He seems to be aware, now more than ever, that he will always be a vessel for so many people’s hopes that he represents something greater than himself every time he hits a golf ball at a major championship. . But it feels fair to say that Tiger Woods is more at peace with that burden than he has ever been.
He does not have to dominate the golf world to be happy or to feel complete. Not anymore. But he wants to keep playing anyway. He will enjoy all he has left and to see him limping around in Augusta this weekend, shaping shots, rippling in putts and laughing as if he was grateful to just walk again, one could not help but wish the same.