Crouching Tiger, reconfirmed genius. by kent gray
Three major titles in his last six starts. The lowest aggregate in major championship history, equalling Henrik Stenson’s 264 total at Royal Troon enroute to the 2016 Claret Jug. Just the fifth player after Sarazen, Hogan, Nicklaus and Woods to win the U.S. Open and PGA in the same season. And, astonishingly, the sidebar story at Bellerive Country Club.
With three of his four PGA Tour wins coming in majors, Brooks Koepka is the biggest of Big Game Hunters. But the Big Cat still rules the jungle, refusing to be intimidated by the “Beast of Bellerive”, nor felled by a fused back or even 42 years of personal scar tissue to go with all those majestic professional peaks.
Tiger Woods didn’t know if he’d play again after a fourth back surgery. When he came back for the umpteenth time at his own tournament in the Bahamans before Christmas, he had no idea if he could compete in the exhibition hit and giggle, let alone win on tour again. He may never do so – golf is like that – but Woods’ performance at the 100th PGA Championship proves he is once more a tour de force, a delicious prospect as we eyeball the 42nd Ryder Cup matches near where cycling’s Tour de France concludes every year. Delicious unless of course, you are European captain Thomas Bjorn. Jim Furyk had an embarrassment of riches for Paris before Tiger forced his way from assistant captain to assured pick, as he surely will be for late September.
When the former world No.1 missed the cut in the U.S. Open won by Koepka at Erin Hills, plenty were ready to write him off. Again. They said Carnoustie was perhaps Tiger’s best, last chance to add a 15th major title and he very nearly did before fading on Sunday to a share of sixth in the 147th Open. But he trumped it all with his play in St. Louis, battling a two-way miss off the tee Sunday to produce his lowest ever score in a major. By four stokes. That alone speaks volumes of Koepka’s long-bombing brilliance.
“It’s tough when guys hit it 340 down the middle,” Tiger said. “…320 in the air is like a chip shot, that’s the new game.” Indeed.
But the old fella is still the marker and beloved by the masses despite his off course indiscretions. Even Koepka, perhaps the most unflappable 28-year-old walking the planet, concurred.
“Apart from me and my team, everyone was rooting for Tiger and they should be.”
As memorable as this year’s majors have been, they’ll quickly be forgotten when the fireworks begin at Le Golf National on September 28.
It’s amazing to think Woods will likely play. Even driving a buggy, his mere presence is worth a couple of points for the Americans. Imagine what he could inspire if he can kick on from Bellerive.
After covering the 40th matches in 2014, I can’t wait. From the opening tee shots to the cringe-worthy Tom Watson- Phil Mickelson Team USA post mortem/press-conference, Gleneagles was mesmerising theatre. Somehow the Rory v Reed shhh-athon at Hazeltine two years ago upped the ante. Who knows what will transpire in Paris but the form of both sides promises something special and no-one does special quite like Woods.
A 15th major would be the greatest comeback in sports, let alone golf. But for romantic stories, how about Tiger inspiring Team USA to a first win on European soil in 25 years? Those would be some bitter-sweet fist-pumps for plenty of devout/amazed Europe/Tiger fans.
“The Big Cat still rules the jungle, refusing to be intimidated by even the ‘ Beast of Bellerive’.”