ATLANTA — Sometimes Tiger Woods can be too much of a good thing. We are in the midst of one of those stretches in which Woods is making history in real time, a day-after-day display of unrelenting brilliance that is as dazzling as any golf he has ever played. Enjoy it. Wallow in it. This is the kind of transcendent athlete that comes along once every quarter century, if you’re lucky.
And yet there is an unfortunate side effect to Woods’s dominance. He took the FedEx Cup — indeed, the whole golf season — and turned it into a one-man show. The other players are blotted out by his virtuosity, and final rounds are turned into little more than filler. It’s all Tiger, all the time.
Woods’s recent run has been long on great shotmaking and short on drama, the latter being the essential element to a memorable sporting event. Firestone was an eight-shot blowout. The PGA Championship was basically over on Friday when Tiger shot 63. It was certainly a done deal on Sunday when he took a five-stroke lead with eight holes to play.
By granting himself a bye for the first round of the so-called playoffs, Woods gave everyone else a glimmer of hope, but he roared back to put a death-grip on the FedEx Cup. His spectacular closing 63 to win at Cog Hill last week made it statistically impossible for 25 of the 30 players in the Tour Championship field to win the FedEx Cup, and two of the five who had a chance needed Woods to finish 20th or worse.
That, of course, did not happen, and the tournament and the FedEx Cup were all but decided by Saturday afternoon. With a ho-hum third-round 64, Woods was able to operate on cruise control Sunday, and he still won the tournament by eight shots.
In his last 11 rounds Tiger hasn’t posted anything worse than 67, and his six most recent scores go like this: 65-63-64-63-64-66. Pretty sporty. After witnessing Woods’s 63 in the second round of the Tour Championship, his playing partner, Steve Stricker, sounded like he had post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“I mean, what can you do?,” Stricker mumbled. “He’s making it from everywhere. I have it inside of him a couple times, and I walk off with par and he makes a birdie. I’m grinding like heck just to make those putts and not getting them in there. You know, what can you do? I just kept trying to play the way I play. I was playing my own game. But it was unbelievable after a while, what he was doing.”
“On No. 5,” — where Woods hit his worst shot of the day only to follow it with a yo-mama slam dunk of a sand shot — “it actually looks like he’s going to make a bogey. I’ve got 15 feet for birdie, and now all of a sudden he makes birdie and I make par. You sit back and think to yourself, how does that happen? I just lost a shot there and I played the hole perfectly and he makes a birdie and I make par. It gets to you after a while. But you just tell him, ‘nice shot,’ and you go on.”
Little wonder that Stricker came out on Saturday and shot a lifeless 71 to skid out of contention. He finished tied for 17th at six under, a shot better than Mickelson. These were the two schlumps immediately behind Woods in the FedEx Cup points standings, meaning Tiger had effectively clinched the points race before he took a swing on Sunday. The inaugural FedEx title goes nicely with his soon-to-be player of the year award, money title, Vardon trophy for low scoring average and every other bauble that will inevitably fall into his lap.
What was most striking about Woods’s third-round 64 was how utterly routine he made it look. Unlike his 63, which included a series of long putts punctuated by a 70-foot bomb for eagle on the ninth hole, he made only one putt longer than seven feet on Saturday. It was a round built on superb driving and monotonous conversion of opportunities.
It was more of the same on Sunday. Even before the final round, Woods’s closest pursuer was waving the white flag, setting up another drama-free afternoon of boring brilliance.
“I gotta beat him by four tomorrow? Not likely.” Mark Calcavecchia said. “It could be a race for second.”
It always is, for better or worse.