Tiger Woods Wasn't Sure To Do With His Hands

Tim Bradbury / Getty

Tim Bradbury / Getty

Tiger Woods won the Tour Championship (apparently stylized as TOUR Championship even though it’s not an acronym) yesterday, his first victory since August 2013. During that gap, injuries and surgeries and scandals transformed his career into a depressing sideshow, a fading phenom left muttering to himself on the side of the road like an out-of-work Ron Burgundy. For more than four years, he was irrelevant and, to hear him tell it, nearly crippled.

Everyone, including Tiger, figured the fist-pumping days were long gone. So when he tapped in for bogey on the 18th, it was no surprise he wasn’t really sure what to do with his hands.

Tiger’s 80th Tour victory might be the first he’s genuinely relished and appreciated like a normal human being. Since birth he’s been trained to excel in one specific area, programmed to mercilessly dominate opponents on the golf course. Everything — and everyone — in his life was designed and positioned to help him win golf tournaments. So he won, all the time, even when he played poorly, because he was supposed to.

But New Tiger, an aging man with three kids and a fresh view from the bottom, is grateful for success. New Tiger, swamped by hungry fans who would only politely clap for any other victor, is borderline sentimental. New Tiger acknowledges the love.

In 1996 I went to the Quad Cities Classic (now the John Deere Classic) with my dad. It was the first golf tournament I ever went to, and Tiger’s third as a professional. We were there on Sunday, and 20-year-old Tiger held the lead before the final round. Hundreds of people crowded around the small practice green to watch him warm up. I was pressed against the ropes right by the exit, hoping for an autograph. When Tiger finished putting and left for the first tee, I just stood and watched. Kids and adults held balls and Sharpies, or just their palms for a high-five. It was a swarm of adulation for a kid who hadn’t yet won professional tournament. He ignored all of it.

Tiger lost in a playoff that day, but maintained that singular focus throughout his career. It’s possible, after the injuries, the layoff, the collapse of his personal life under the weight of his own ego, that a bit of humanity has crept into ruthless competition machine. If yesterday was any indication, Tiger Woods may just enjoy the twilight of his career as much as the rest of us will. |ES|