Greg Cote | In My Opinion

Greg Cote: Tiger Woods’ Doral dominance doesn’t erase major question of future major success

 

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

It isn’t enough.

That is not meant as a criticism. Rather, that is the highest compliment that can be paid Tiger Woods after his triumphant Sunday in the World Golf Championships on Doral’s Blue Monster.

This would be a career highlight topping the resume for most golfers, but not for this one. Not when the expectations set for you, and that you have set for yourself, are as high as history.

Woods wore his signature blood-red shirt and black slacks — his Sunday-go-to-beatin’ clothes — and the field never stood a chance. These were the world’s best players, but Tiger entering Sunday with a four-stroke lead wins like the sun rises: All the time.

He would win by “only” two shots over good friend Steve Stricker with a pedestrian 71 in the final round, but seldom has a two-shot margin seemed less in doubt. A writer in the post-round interview asked Woods about his “stress-free” day.

“Stress-free? Did you not see 18?” kidded Woods.

He had bogeyed that last hole, but by then it was all over but the cheering. He had won safely, nursing the finally round, coaxing it just enough.

It was good enough. for the day, for the week. But it did little to satisfy the larger demands that are on Tiger alone.

Woods stood on the 18th green, where the final stroke of his week’s masterpiece had been painted, and was handed the trophy that went with the $1.4 million check. He posed for photos with new Doral owner Donald Trump — whose obvious disdain for attention is reflected in the private helicopter emblazoned TRUMP that rested where most arriving fans could see it. Woods’ WGC crown marked his fifth PGA Tour win in his past 18 stroke-play tournaments dating to last year and put him within striking distance of perhaps soon regaining the No. 1 spot in the Official World Golf Ranking.

You could argue that Sunday marked the closest Woods has come to being “back” all the way. To a level he has not attained in four or five years. To a stature that seemed to be irreparably crushed with that infidelity scandal that ruined his marriage, tainted his good name and gut-punched his career, rendering himself winless in all of 2010-11.

Tiger is punching back now, and Doral was a knockout — a wonderful ending to the 52nd year in a row the PGA Tour has visited this place. Billy Casper won the very first event at Doral in 1962. His grand prize was $9,000. This is one of the rare South Florida sports fixtures predating even the Dolphins, and its newest conqueror, Woods, is healthy and confident again. He is resurgent. This 76th career Tour victory draws him ever closer to Sam Snead’s all-time record of 82.

And yet none of it matters all that much, because that isn’t the record that counts most. Not with this guy.

Nothing else Tiger does from here will count nearly as much as what he does or doesn’t do in the majors he plays.

Unless or until he wins another major (or more), days like Sunday will be consolation prizes, albeit lucrative ones.

His majors total is frozen on 14, and has been since he won his last, the U.S. Open, in 2008. Then, Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 seemed sure to fall. Now? Now ’08 seems like ages ago. Now Tiger is 37. Nicklaus himself last week said he thinks Woods still has a chance to catch or pass him, but the Golden Bear added with a subtle tweak, “He’d better get going.”

Eighteen majors have come and gone since Woods last won one. Seven have seen him in the top 10; no matter. The big number remains at 14.

This is the elephant in the room when it comes to Woods, and those who cover him.

Golf writers ask technical questions about his mechanics or his swing or how “close he is” to being satisfied, when what they mean is, “Tick tock. When are young going to win another major?”

Someone nibbled at the question Sunday, asking how equipped he feels to be dominant again.

“Well, I’m just trying to get better,” he said. “I feel like my game’s becoming more efficient, and more consistent. I’m very pleased with the progress I’ve made.”

Another questioner dared mention that Augusta is next month. The Masters. The tournament that in 1997 saw Woods electrifying the country and setting his legend in motion.

Tiger deftly reconfigured the question to speak about how confident he feels going in, saying, “[This] is how I know I can play. Any time I can win prior to Augusta, it always feels good.”

Woods does feel he is getting closer, though, to restarting that career majors clock with the long-elusive 15th.

“I felt toward the end of last year I was headed in that direction,” he said.

The Masters begins in exactly one month.

Doral was nice for Woods’ confidence, and for his bank account.

He knows Augusta, and the majors beyond it, are what will shape his legend.

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