PALM HARBOR, Fla. — I didn’t think Tiger Woods would win again.
There, I said it. Feels good to get it off my chest, even if I have to forever wear a scarlet TW like some modern-day Hester Prynne.
Technically, I haven’t been proven wrong — yet. Woods and fellow American Patrick Reed finished tied for second at the Valspar Championship, just a shot behind champion Paul Casey. Even though Woods came up agonizingly short of winning for the first time in four years, seven months and 10 days, I’m ready to concede defeat in this match. My prediction got Stephen Ames‘d.
Surely, some of you reading this right now are nodding along. You didn’t believe he could do it, either, not after the fourth back surgery and the lengthy layoffs and the continued persistence of Father Time.
It might be best to lay low for a while. The I-told-you-so mob is coming after us like Salem witches or McCarthy-era communists. They’ll tell us we’re haters, that we disrespected the GOAT, that we’re unworthy of witnessing this third or fourth or fifth iteration of his Shakespearean career.
And let’s face it: They have the truth on their side. Woods is going to win again, very possibly at this week’s upcoming Arnold Palmer Invitational and maybe even — brace yourself — at next month’s Masters. He might win three more times or he might win 30 more times. But it’s imminent now. It’s inevitable.
All of which means those of us who doubted him will have to sit back, enjoy the show and take our lumps, his impending leaderboard presence a constant reminder of our own poor judgment.
We do, though, at least have a smoking gun on our side. Someone close to the situation who similarly discounted whether Tiger could ever make it back to this position.
Don’t get me wrong. He never gave up, never stopped trying to again reach this elite level. But you’d better believe that while he was bedridden, unable to stand up because of excruciating back pain, there’s no way he ever thought he’d win again. Hell, he didn’t even think he’d play again.
Just read his words:
Dec. 1, 2015: “Where is the light at the end of the tunnel? I don’t know.”
Nov. 29, 2016: “If you couldn’t get out of bed, how would you feel about your future about doing a lot of different things in life? That’s where I was.”
Sept. 27, 2017: “I’m not doing anything golf related. … I don’t know what the future holds for me.”
The only legitimate conclusion, when listening to the doubt in his voice even six months ago, was that any version of Woods during a comeback attempt would be only a shadow of the man who won 79 PGA Tour events and 14 major championships.
He painted the pessimistic picture. We just walked through the museum and stared glumly at it.
Or maybe we — and yes, by “we” I mean “I” — just didn’t see the whole picture. Maybe we were guilty of living only in the moment, of failing to see the forest through the trees. Maybe we somehow forgot that this is a guy who spent the prime years of his career making the impossible look possible.
Tiger Woods fails to make a lengthy birdie putt on the 18th hole to force a playoff with Paul Casey.
There he was Sunday afternoon, just 155 days removed from posting a video to social media captioned, “Smooth iron shots,” during which he swung a golf club for the first time publicly since spinal fusion surgery, looking like the Tiger of old. He lashed at the ball with the vehemence of a player half his age. He stared down laser-beamed iron shots. He walked after putts and fist-pumped when they dropped into the cup.
He looked like a player who could’ve won this tournament, one who will win soon enough.
For those who never doubted this return to prominence, I offer you a polite golf clap. Just don’t get too cocky about it. Even Tiger wasn’t sure this day would ever come.
When asked this weekend whether he’d ever thought about winning while he dealing with his worst pain, Woods explained, “I didn’t. I was living from minute to minute. You have no idea how hard it was.”
He’s not alone. After four back surgeries and at 42 years old, it was easy to envision a golf world in which Tiger wasn’t relevant anymore. It was easy to think he’d be stuck on 79 wins for the rest of his life.
That isn’t the case. His next win is inevitable — and I can’t wait to watch it and eat crow. I’ll be the guy with a scarlet TW on my chest.