Tiger Woods remembers how to win, that much is clear. With a pressure-proof two-under-par 69 on Sunday at the AT&T National he won for the third time this season, locking up, ahem, comeback player of the year honors. Woods, 36, also passed his white whale, Jack Nicklaus, moving into second on the alltime list with 74 PGA Tour victories.
Given the uncertainties with Woods heading into this year — medically, spiritually and swing-wise — he couldn't resist a little gloating on Sunday evening. "I remember there was a time when people were saying I could never win again. That was what, six months ago? Here we are."
Woods had already displayed a dominant long game in his previous two wins, but what made this latest victory noteworthy was his stellar putting. On baked-out greens at Congressional Country Club he had zero three-putts for the week, a stat that his former minders Steve Williams and Hank Haney used to obsess over. Woods credited his college teammate Notah Begay for a pretournament tip. "He got me putting like I used to," Woods said. Which was, in a word, "Fantastic."
During the first act of Woods's career (1996–2009) the putter was always the difference maker. The question is whether last week's magic was a one-off or if he can maintain a similar touch on the slower, grainier greens at the British Open, which begins July 19. Woods hasn't won a major championship in more than four years, and snagging number 15 would make this season about more than only redemption. Royal Lytham and St. Anne's, on the west coast of England, is a quirky, claustrophobic layout dotted with 206 pot bunkers. Lytham will allow Woods to use all of his genius as a tactician, shaping shots while employing a variety of clubs off the tee. This is the formula he used to take major championships number 11 (2006 British Open) and number 13 ('07 PGA Championship) at two other bandboxes, Royal Liverpool and Southern Hills.
Of course, Woods adroitly played this brand of small ball for two rounds at last month's U.S. Open before unraveling on the weekend. That's the thing about this reinvented Tiger — there is more uncertainty in his makeup, even when he's playing well. Which makes Woods's journey to the British Open all the more intriguing.