There are horses for courses, like Bubba for wide-open Augusta National. But the greatest golf thoroughbreds love the game so deeply and are so gifted that they learn all the shots for all the courses. That’s Woods.
“Tiger was that old Tiger,” Watson said. “That was beautiful to watch.”
“He struck it really well, had really solid control of his flight, trajectory. It was impressive,” said Mickelson, who beat Woods by 11 head-to-head on Sunday in his Pebble Beach win in February. After his withdrawal at the Memorial, Phil’s game is now officially on report.
Both Watson and Mickelson are creative, imaginative and combine power and touch. But so does Woods. And Tiger brings extra levels of discipline, analysis of technique and perspective on the whole sport.
Out of the blue this week, he discussed how Hogan wished the video camera had arrived in his era so he could “correct his mistakes faster. . . . I grew up in an era of VHS. . . . These kids are now bringing iPads to the range and breaking their swing down” with computer software.
In South Korea, youngsters hit balls indoors for six months. “They come out and have perfect golf swings. That’s the new generation. The swings are all going to look very similar, with power,” Woods said. They’ve all been inspired by the Tiger era and, also, by the drive to blow right past Woods.
“Yeah, there is a little bit of that,” Woods said.
Nicklaus also played against generations of players who idolized, copied and wanted to surpass him. If Woods is going to pass Jack’s 18 major titles, he’ll need wins on courses like Olympic that demand sometimes outdated skills that he respects, and has mastered, but that young clones may neglect.
Instead of monster drives, Woods hit his low 3-wood “stingers” on many holes, using the entire width of the fairway for the inevitable sideways Olympic bounce. “That’s the neat thing — doglegs that run away from you, a big premium on shaping the ball, on game-planning,” Woods said. “You have to think.”
Since his expensive 2010 divorce, the tests of Woods’s judgment that matter now are those we watch when he has a golf club in hand. Will his revamped game stand up to the pressure of a major? Can it withstand the extra internal pressures to win that Woods may feel? He won’t be sharing those emotions unless he wins, we can be sure, and maybe not even then.
On Thursday, Woods chose the perfect U.S. Open color, gray, like the San Francisco sky before the fog burns off, gray like the spiritual state that’s ideal for boring yourself into a par-par-par state of precise golf. And gray like the blank mind, no subconscious issues in play, when you stand over those 10-foot U.S. Open par putts.
Like Hogan, that consummate clad-in-gray U.S. Open man, Woods accented his outfit with a white hat. Tiger knows these things, the details of the game long before he was born. He knows, like Hogan, that everything he has done, and everything he may still do, will be written and remembered long after he’s gone, by players who won’t be born for decades.
As the sun set, Woods’s name stood in second place, just three shots behind. One of those chapters may be just days away.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/