For any other player, it would have been a career-defining moment. For Tiger Woods, it was just another Sunday — even if those Sunday moments have become a little more rare lately.
Woods was in contention for his 73rd win to tie Jack Nicklaus for second on the all-time list, nine behind Sam Snead, and in just another example of Woods' incredible flair for the dramatic, he was at Jack's tournament, the Memorial, with the Golden Bear calling the action from the booth. He found himself a single shot out of the lead when he airmailed the green at Muirfield's par-3 16th hole, leaving himself an impossibly delicate chip shot from a fluffy, scraggly lie. Then, like so many times before, the magic happened. Woods' full-swing flop shot out Mickelson'd anything Lefty could summon, landing softly and perfectly and trickling into the hole for a birdie.
Tiger's host was suitably impressed.
"I just said out here a couple times, that under the circumstances, the circumstances being Tiger has been struggling, he found himself in a position in a tournament, and it was either fish or cut bait, 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," Nicklaus said 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."
Playing partner Rickie Fowler, who was in the process of imploding with a final-round 84 — 17 shots worse than Woods' 67 — took time off from calculating his score to enjoy the moment. "He had obviously a shot that — I guess not lucky, but you hit a good shot to get it inside 10 feet, and it came out perfect, landed kind of right on the crown of that ridge there, and the rest is history," Fowler said. "I mean, he obviously loves being in the moment, and that's where he kind of gets down, focuses and hits those shots. It was fun to see."
In case you missed it, here's the shot:
But there was more to his final-round 67 than one hero shot. Woods put a stamp on one of the best ball-striking weeks of his career, a week when he led the field in greens in regulation (73.6%).
He even impressed himself. "Boy, I hit it good today," Woods said. "That was some good stuff out there. I never really missed a shot today. It was just, as Sean (instructor Sean Foley) likes to say, go out there and put on a stripe show, and I did today. I hit it great, and I had the pace of the greens really nice today, where I struggled yesterday, and made a few putts."
Obviously, there's a little tournament in a couple of weeks at San Francisco's Olympic Club that Woods would dearly love to win, as he chases his personal Holy Grail — Nicklaus' 18 major championships. Woods thinks the current state of his game bodes well for his U.S. Open chances. "I'm excited because of the way I hit the golf ball this week," he said. "I hit the ball really well. At Olympic we're all going to have to hit the ball great there. That golf course, you can look at the history of guys who were in contention or who ended up winning, all were wonderful drivers of the golf ball and good, solid iron players. That's what it's going to take there at Olympic, more so than most U.S. Open sites."
Obviously, Tiger still has what it takes. He's still four away from Jack, but 19 majors are in play again.