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Tiger Shows He Still Has Major Stripes

Article by Ron Green Jr. of Global Golf Post

When it was over for him, when there was nothing left to do but shake the hand of new major champion Francesco Molinari, with whom he’d spent a windblown and ultimately disappointing Sunday afternoon at Carnoustie, Tiger Woods didn’t hug the Claret Jug again.

Instead, he hugged his children.

And they hugged him back, the way kids can, putting their heartbeats into it.

Woods’ daughter, Sam, is now 11 and her brother, Charlie, is 9 and what they saw at Carnoustie was their 42-year-old father not turning back the hands of time but showing this middle-aged version of himself is pretty special, too.

At 4:19 p.m. British Summer Time on Sunday, Woods found himself with a share of the lead. A few minutes later, he was alone at the top, 7-under par and one stroke ahead. The warm summer air felt almost hot.

It was the first time since Masters Sunday in 2011 that Woods led a major on the final day.

His lead was soon gone, lost in a tangle of grass-snarled iron shafts after a pair of tee shots wound up in bad spots, leading to a double bogey-bogey spell that all but ended Woods’ run at a 15th major championship. It was a cruel tease but golf does that. Ask Jordan Spieth or Xander Schauffele or Justin Rose, whose Open stories ended just short of happy.

If a portion of electricity evaporated from the gusty afternoon once it became evident someone other than Woods would win the Claret Jug, what remained as Molinari ultimately captured his first major championship was the thrill of having had a moment that was almost lost forever.

At Carnoustie, where he stuck to his strategy and allowed the tournament to come to him on Sunday, Woods didn’t win (he finished T6, three behind Molinari) but he showed that he could. He relied on irons off most tees, was among the leaders in fairways hit and though he often gave himself longer birdie putts than players hitting more drivers, Woods avoided the big numbers until he doubled the 11th Sunday.

Maybe he won’t win another tournament, major or non-major, but until he made a mess of the 11th hole Sunday afternoon, it felt like old times.

“It did. It did,” Woods said. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I need to do. I’ve done it so many different ways. It felt great to be part of the mix and build my way into the championship. Today, I had a great opportunity.”

Critics – and Woods still has plenty – will argue that this new Tiger lacks the ability to close out tournaments, a skill he wore as brilliantly as red shirts on Sunday. Give him a sniff and Woods delivered the kill.

He was close at the Arnold Palmer Invitational with three holes remaining in March and hit a tee shot out of bounds. Having sent a rush through the Players Championship on Sunday, Woods closed with 37. At Carnoustie, he played the last eight holes 2-over par while watching Molinari chop and putt his way through that stretch in 2-under par.

The math tells the story. From one ahead to three behind.

“A little ticked off at myself for sure, ” is how Woods described his feelings immediately after the Open. He did, however, sneak up to 50th in the world ranking, earning himself a start in 10 days at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in its Firestone Country Club farewell, a personal goal.

Start to finish, this was a terrific Open Championship because of Carnoustie, because the fairways were the color of a piece of toast, because it rained on Friday, it blew on Sunday, Spieth nearly kept the Claret Jug he won last year, Rory McIlroy rode an eagle into a share of the lead on the back nine Sunday and because of so many other reasons.

The final day was borderline magic. In terms of star power, Molinari doesn’t crackle like McIlroy or Spieth but there’s nothing flukey about his winning a major championship. When Woods was out front, though it lasted only for a hole or two, it felt like the center of the universe.

Asked if he appreciated what Woods was doing, McIlroy said no.

“Not at all,” McIlroy said.

“Maybe if I was at home with a broken ankle like a few years ago, it might have been cool but when you’re trying to beat him, no appreciation there.”

Sounds like something Woods might have said. Sounds like a mindset he can appreciate.

This isn’t the Tiger Woods that won 79 PGA Tour events and 14 major championships.

“Not Tiger that Phil and Ernie and these guys had to deal with,” McIlroy said. “It’s a different version. But he’s right there. He’s getting himself in the mix.

“I wouldn’t say we’re worried about him but he’s one of those guys that’s always in with a shot.”

McIlroy isn’t being disrespectful. Few players admire Woods and what he has done as much as McIlroy. The reality is this is a different Tiger.

Different game. Different expectations. Same stripes.

Woods will think about the family hug near Carnoustie’s 18th green.

“I told them I tried and I said, ‘Hopefully you’re proud of your pops for trying as hard as I did,’ ” Woods said.

For a flash, his eyes glistened as he spoke.

“It’s pretty emotional because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me and how good it feels to be playing again.

To me, it’s just so special to have them aware because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career but they don’t remember any of them. So for them to understand what I was doing early in my career…The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through.

“Now they just want to go play soccer with me. Man, it’s such a great feeling.”

With a happy ending of a different sort.

Republished with permission from Global Golf Post.