Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Tiger Woods
It’s easy to play Tiger Woods Bingo with some of the terms and phrases that he continually employs.
“It is what it is.”
“Winning takes care of everything.”
“Traj.” “Feels.” “Explosiveness.”
Those are all in his repertoire, but the free square on this board, the go-to term that permeates nearly every interview: Process.
Woods talks about the process so frequently that it has become a cliché, a functioning defense mechanism for explaining why he hasn’t won yet on this latest comeback tour, or why he didn’t score better in a particular round, or why he didn’t make a birdie on a given hole.
And so, it’s simple to hear him discuss this process and let the idea float into the ether without considering what it means. That would be, to use another Tiger-related term, a big miss.
The process is what has allowed him to return to this point in his career. And the process is what will allow him to continue moving forward until he starts winning again.
Woods needed to get healthy first; then he needed to regain his swing, and then his short game. He needed to put it all together to make impressive birdies and effortless pars, and then keep doing that consistently. Woods needed to play full rounds with limited mistakes for a solid score, then multiple rounds within a tournament. He needed to compete among the world’s best golfers, then be able to contend with them for a title. That’s where he is now. He’s contending.
It appears to be inevitable that Woods will take the next step in this process and win more golf tournaments. We can debate whether he’ll win 30 more times or three, or whether he’ll win five more majors to break the all-time record or none, but it’s nearly impossible to take a serious stance that he won’t — or can’t — win again on the highest level.
It could happen Sunday, but it probably won’t. Woods clawed his way into a share of the lead during the third round of the Memorial Tournament, only to three-putt two of his final three holes and close with a 4-under 68 that will leave him chasing again in the final round.
As the PGA Tour noted on its Twitter account after the round, Woods finished first in strokes gained tee-to-green and in strokes gained with approach shots, second in strokes gained around the green and in proximity to the hole, and 80th in strokes gained putting — out of the 81 players who made the 36-hole cut.
There are two ways to dissect and analyze these stats. One is that Woods isn’t rolling it well enough with the flatstick to win anytime soon. The reality is, putting is streaky. It is easier to fix a balky putting stroke than a two-way miss off the tee. Even if Woods lifts his putting numbers up to average, he’ll start winning tournaments again.
It’s like we’ve said so often about players like Adam Scott and Justin Rose: They don’t have to putt like Ben Crenshaw to win; exquisite ball-striking and just average putting can be a winning combination.
And, yes, Woods’ ball-striking qualifies as exquisite right now.
Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, who isn’t prone to unnecessary Tiger flattery, said during Saturday’s round, “Now that he’s not in pain, he’s swinging as well as he did in 2000. Get ready. It’s going to be a fun ride.”
Hank Haney, Woods’ former swing coach, similarly doesn’t throw too many compliments toward his former pupil, but had an encouraging tweet on Woods’ performance.
And none other than tournament host Jack Nicklaus, the man with whom Woods is inextricably linked, offered during the telecast: “He’s played an awful lot of good golf. He’s right there. I think that it’s going to be not too far away, he’s going to remember how to finish.”
They’re absolutely right, all of ‘em. The next step in this process is a victory. And it’s coming.
We can debate how often Woods will win once he does, but returning to that winner’s circle is now an inevitability. And like he so often says, “Winning takes care of everything.”
Perhaps Nicklaus put it best as Woods walked off the final green after Saturday’s round.
“It’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just, ‘When is it going to happen?’”