Weeks after his win at Torrey Pines, and days after his Sunday interview during the AT&T telecast, I'm still struck by two images of Tiger: using his golf club as a crutch as he limped off a tee or out of the rough after playing shots that struck some sort of nerve; and the bags under his eyes and his subdued nature while doing a remote interview with Nick Faldo and Verne Lundquist of CBS. You know that ad where the guy is sitting on the plane and next to him is his future self, many years down the road, graying and lined? The young version of the guy says to his older self, "Are you . . . me?" At the U.S. Open, and from somewhere in Orlando, we got a little glimpse of Tiger many years from now. Someday, even Tiger will be an old man.
It makes you wonder what kind of old man Tiger will be. At Wimbledon the other day, Bjorn Borg, sitting courtside while taking in the amazing final, was silver-haired and lined but still looked like he could go five sets. Jack Nicklaus, who plays a role in Tiger's life much like the two men on the plane in the ad, won in his 40s and was still competitive in his 50s. It's easy to imagine Tiger still winning 20 years from now. It's easier yet to imagine him walking away from the public side of the game, as Mickey Wright did. You can imagine, too, golf returning to its earlier status, as a not-quite-major sport.
Tiger won a U.S. Open on one leg. He may someday find he doesn't have to swing anywhere near as hard as he does now to be a dominant player. Tiger at half his regular strength, or 90 percent of his regular speed, would still be as good as anything else out there. If he wants it, his run could endure for another 20 years, even if the hair goes, the lines come. Even if he needs a crutch to get around.