Woods’s day was just a first-round 1-under-par 69. The next three days, given his recent years, could produce anything from wonderful to wheels-off again. But this was exactly the start he wanted. His day was almost devoid of drama because he struck the ball so solidly, took his scandalous driver out of the bag only three times and strategized his way around this canted, constantly curving track so cleverly — working his ball left-to-right or the opposite on nearly every shot — that Woods seldom played a troubled shot.
As Woods explained, just as Jack Nicklaus might have 30 years ago, everybody who’s ever won the Open at Olympic had been able to “to shape the ball in either direction.” Others might make the same point. But Woods then went through the flight-path patterns of Scott Simpson, Lee Janzen, Billy Casper and even Jack Fleck in his 1954 playoff upset of Ben Hogan.
Three times in golf’s history, the best talent and the best all-around golf mind have resided in the same man — Bobby Jones, Nicklaus and Woods. Those who don’t want to see more, much more, of what Woods, 36, has left to give the golf world surely habor a severe or perverse agenda.
“I was reading a long time ago about [how] Arnold [Palmer] liked to draw the ball, but he learned how to cut it just for the Open [here in ’66]. He did all right. He had a seven-shot lead with nine to go,” Woods said. Then, in passing, Woods mentioned how many tournaments, and majors, the eventual ’66 winner, Casper, had won.
This may not be the week when Woods wins his 15th major. But it was a day when you could see the sharp outlines of that event. When he’s got himself sorted out, on and off the course, Tiger is different, much different, from all the others. On Thursday, the U.S. Golf Association tried to create a made-for-TV supergroup to showcase the sport and get some mileage out of Woods, at least for two days, even if he should follow his win at the Memorial two weeks ago with a crash-and-burn similar to his tied-for-40th finish at the Masters this spring, just after he’d won Palmer’s Orlando invitational.
All that the trio of Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson and Woods demonstrated was that, even in the best of company, Tiger is a one-off. Phil and Bubba decided to wear all black. Like hit men? Pallbearers? Did they hope to look intimidating — or, at least, not intimidated?
The funeral turned out to be theirs. From the moment his wild-hook drive off the first tee was lost high up in a cypress tree, Mickelson was a lost-swing mess, shooting a 6-over 76. “A tough day when you play it the way I did,” he said. “I wasn’t able to get it stopped.”