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Tiger reminds us where much of his greatness lies

ESPN staff
June 6, 2012
Tiger Woods pulled off the remarkable once again © Getty Images
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Forget the talk about whether Tiger Woods is 'back' or not.

Sunday at the Memorial Tournament was a reminder that part of him - the part that has played a pivotal role in winning more than a few of his 73 PGA Tour victories, let alone his 14 major championships - never really went away.

Journalists are always eager to debate whether Tiger is 'back' or not - but what does 'back' really mean? To most it means a return to his 'best' golf, something that is actually remarkably difficult to quantify.

In that regard, then Tiger really isn't 'back'. Even after a near-perfect "stripe show" (his words) on Sunday at Muirfield Village, he still isn't anywhere near the Woods that won the 'Tiger Slam' over a decade ago, or could decimate fields if he was really feeling it.

The old Tiger - hell, pretty much any Tiger that could still putt - would have won last week by far more than the two shots that he eventually did. The new Tiger, however, had to dig a little deeper to pull out the 'W'.

What he found, however, was a quality that never left him - probably because he was born with it. And that quality helped him record another win despite his struggles.

How often have we seen Woods pull off remarkable shots when the situation absolutely demands it? Sunday was simply another example.

One shot off the lead and over the back of the green at the tricky par-three 16th, Woods was staring another bogey in the face. He had a poor lie, water behind the pin, no green to work with and even less room to work with.

A par, from that spot, would have been a remarkable feat of escapism. But even that would probably not help him win the tournament.

So instead he holed it.

Reminiscent of his majestic, career-defining chip-in at Augusta on the 16th in 2005, Woods took a huge swing at the ball, flopped it up onto the green and watched as it trickled down the slope, took the break perfectly and dropped into the right half of the cup.

Instantly he was level at eight-under with Rory Sabbatini. Barely five minutes later he was ahead, after Sabbatini bogeyed the same hole. Fast-forward 20 minutes and four perfect swings, and Woods was rolling in a birdie at the last that would confirm his latest victory.

"He had one place to land the ball, he's playing a shot that if he leaves it short, he's going to leave himself again a very difficult shot, if he hits it long, he's going to probably lose the tournament," Jack Nicklaus, the tournament host, said of that seismic moment at 16 afterwards.

"He lands the ball exactly where it has to land. It doesn't make a difference whether it went in the hole or not. Going in the hole was a bonus. But what a shot. I don't think under the circumstances I've ever seen a better shot."

The win doesn't mean Woods is back to being the best in the world again (although he is up to No. 4, according to the official measure). Yes, he has won twice already this year - but both came at tournaments he had previously won a combined 10 times.

He has won on two courses he knows exceedingly well, better than any other player on the planet. And he still had to fight to do it.

Simply expecting him to walk off with next week's US Open is presumptive, so in that regard he cannot be considered to be 'back'. But this period, where he is working with an inconsistent swing and struggling with a putter that no longer behaves quite like it used to, has proven a chance to remind us of that extra level Woods has when the stakes are the highest.

He's pulled off the impossible so many times now it is impossible to see it as anything other than a remarkable character trait. Sunday was just another breathtaking example.

"I'm sure by Tuesday I'll be retired and done, and then by the time I tee it up at the US Open it might be something different," Woods said. "But I'll let you guys figure that out."

Well Tiger, it's already Wednesday. You're probably still not 'back', but last week you reminded us that part of you never went away.

And that part is quite remarkable.

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