LA JOLLA, Calif. — Many will see Tiger Woods’ victory Monday as a day of belaboring the obvious. He had a six-shot lead to start the day, only 11 holes left and a golf course that would give up birdies to his challengers as easily as Manti Te’o finds girlfriends.
Others will see it as a resurrection.
Is Woods really back?
Ever since Michael Jordan made it fashionable to be back, that question has been posed for every major athlete who seemed to lose his or her way. Woods hasn’t won a major since the U.S. Open in 2008. Because he had won 13 prior to that and is 37 now, it seems to be a fair question at each appropriate juncture.
A coasting, four-shot victory in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, a golf course that would make being locked in a small room with 10 people talking loudly on their cellphones preferable to playing there, seemed an appropriate juncture.
And so the question was put to Woods in his post-victory news conference.
Are you back?
His response was not only vintage Woods, but both in content and tone, the definitive answer.
“Never left,” he said.
That was followed by the huge smile that, with his emphatic fist pump over putts that go in, has become a trademark. Woods has a smile that lights up a room, as well as a snarl that can empty it.
The news in this one was not that Woods won, but what it meant.
If you looked closely and listened carefully, there were plenty of signs that addressed that.
Friday’s round was played in drenching rain. It never let up long enough for anybody, spectator or player, to find relief from being wet and miserable. Players went from sweaters to short-sleeve windbreakers to the kind of Gore-Tex rain suits usually needed only during the monsoon major they play every year, also known as the British Open.
Woods? He played all the way in a sweater and brushed away that sort of Arctic hardiness with a sniff.
“Once you are wet, you are wet,” he said. “Deal with it.”
Reading into that the implication that the others guys are wimps may or may not be a stretch.
Woods was asked what kind of goal he set for Monday, in this odd finish necessitated by a total fog-out Saturday.
“I felt if I post a 20 (under par),” he said, “they weren’t going to win the golf tournament.”
He said the swirling wind that came up negated that goal of undercutting par by three more in his 11 holes Monday. Most players in that position would have talked about shooting for the middle of greens, loving pars and protecting the lead.
More questions about goals, always kind of a murky pursuit in sports, came forth. The strategically correct response to those is usually some form of milquetoast babble or cop-out, especially if you never want to rile up your opponents for the days ahead. In the world of sports cliches, that’s called bulletin board material.
Woods never winced Monday, even when the question specifically addressed a desire to be intimidating.
“I’d like to win eight, nine times a year,” he said. “That’s not a bad thing.”
Then there were the actions, speaking even louder than the words.
When Woods was Woods, there were moments that will remain etched in the minds of golf fans forever.
There was the chip-in on No. 16 at the 2005 Masters, where his shot rolled tantalizingly down a hill toward the cup and stopped on the lip just long enough to provide a shot of the Nike logo — and about $50 million worth of free branding and marketing — before it dropped in on the way to his fourth Masters title.
Then there was the third round of that ‘08 U.S. Open, played right here at Torrey Pines. Woods, limping with a stress fracture and a torn knee ligament, made an incredible, winding downhill eagle putt on the par-five 13th and then chipped in from the high rough next to No. 17. It took one bounce and fell in.
Mortals don’t make those shots. For Woods, they were a matter of course.
There was a lot of Woods being Woods again this weekend.
Sunday, he hit a horrible drive on No. 4, had to slap punch a second shot under a huge tree limb and then, after leaving that a tad short, chipped it in. Monday, on the par-three 11th, his tee shot landed in a greenside bunker. It was so close to the edge that he had to stand up alongside the trap, not in it, to hit. Mortals hope just to get it out. Woods somehow got down on the ball and hit it to two feet of the cup.
“A dicey little shot,” he said.
Nick Faldo, whose six major titles and 98 weeks as No. 1 player in the world translate to high credibility in his role as television analyst, summed up Woods’ weekend.
“This is his way of sending a message to the golf world and the other players,” Faldo said.
Somebody should have thought to phone Michael Jordan for his summary, which would be no surprise.