BOZICH: Tiger Isn't Back, Regardless of What You Read
By Rick Bozich
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There's no cheering in the press box – unless Tiger Woods is on the first tee.
Then all it requires is one chip-in from the clouds, and the media rattles its bag and pulls out the two most reliable Tiger clichés:
A) TIGER's BACK (caps mandatory) and B) Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships is in jeopardy again.
Cue video from Sunday's U.S. Open at The Olympic Club in San Francisco, the video you missed after you made the wise move and switched your attention to the NBA Finals.
Tiger's Back, all right – back in the rough and back to barking at his crooked putter.
Once upon a time I was in the group that believed when Tiger returned to Valhalla Golf Club for the 2014 PGA Championship the story line would be Tiger catching or overtaking Nicklaus' career record on a course that Jack designed. More history for the fabric of Valhalla, footage more remarkable than his playoff victory over Bob May a dozen years ago.
Now I wonder when Tiger will make it to his 15th major. He's been wearing No. 14 longer than Pete Rose.
Woods finished tied for 21st this weekend. Mark it down as the worst U.S. Open finish of his professional career. He tied for 82nd as an amateur in 1996.
For Tiger Nation, what happened this weekend in California had to be the most deflating major of Woods' remarkable career.
On Friday, after Woods backed up his opening-round 69 with a 70, you couldn't escape the chatter that he was primed to grind his spikes into the field and win his first major championship since his ex-wife began reading his text messages.
If anybody goes back and researches the Twitter account of ESPN.com columnist Rick Reilly, he'll have to return one of his 11 National Sportswriter of the Year awards. Reilly couldn't wait until the end of play on Friday for his breathless blast of TIGER'S BACK commentary.
"Write it down," Reilly tweeted on Friday afternoon. "At 2 p.m., P.T., Friday, Tiger Woods took the Open lead and never looked back … Bet me."
Sure. How much?
Reilly wasn't the only one whose laptop was locked in coronation mode. Like LeBron James or Tom Brady, Tiger makes people choose sides. It also makes reasonable minds lose control. John Garrity of Sports Illustrated doesn't normally stray into hyperbole. This is how Garrity started one of his U.S. Open pieces Friday afternoon:
"Is Tiger back? It would seem so, judging from Woods' victory two weeks ago at the Memorial and his impressive play through two rounds of the U.S. Open."
Then Woods was required to play Saturday and Sunday, assignments he completed in a combined eight over par. If Tiger were back, if Woods was actually the unflappable Tiger Woods of 2005 or 2006, he would have finished Saturday and Sunday in eight under par.
Woods played like a guy with too much junk in his swing – and junk in his head. The old Tiger Woods isn't walking into that tee box – at least not yet.
Enter Webb Simpson. Exit TV viewers.
Although viewership for the Open was up 29 percent over last year, the numbers were actually down 22 percent from 2008 and 4 percent from 2010, the last two Opens that featured Sunday rounds in East Coast primetime.
For Woods to tie or overtake Nicklaus at Valhalla in August of 2014 he will have to win at least three of the next nine major championships. Considering Woods has not won any of the last 16 majors and that he's won only three of the last 23, Nicklaus has ample time to work on his congratulatory speech.
Write it down. And bet me.
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