SAN DIEGO – Rarely in sports has such a big moment had such a short shelf life.
Even one involving Tiger Woods.
With respect to Brooks Koepka and his two majors, or Francesco Molinari with his claret jug and 5-0 mark in the Ryder Cup, no moment last year captivated golf as much as Woods finishing off his improbable comeback by winning the final PGA Tour event of the season at the Tour Championship.
And then it was time to move on.
Twelve hours later, Woods and the American team arrived in Paris for the Ryder Cup. That week was all about team and trying to win on European soil, both ultimately failures. And then Woods was out of public view for two months, returning only for a pair of exhibitions in Las Vegas and the Bahamas.
Publicly, the moment was gone. Privately, Woods took time to reflect.
First, it was the reaction from his family and friends, those who had seen him at the lowest of low points when he was searching for answers to his ailing back through four surgeries, and when a reliance on pain medications led to the public embarrassment of his arrest on a DUI charge.
“I got back home and I got a chance to be around my friends and my family, to hear some of the stories of how nervous they were and how emotional they were,” Woods said Tuesday. “Players, friends, people who saw what I went through at home, saw the difficult times and just to see that I made it that far back, that was touching to me because I didn’t really expect that, because I’m inside the ropes.
“I know what it took for me,” he said. “But I didn’t know it would have affected anyone else like that.”
Then, it was seeing the final round on a video screen.
The highlights of that Sunday at East Lake were so much like the Woods of old. He had a 54-hole lead, mapped out what it would take to win and was so methodical in his execution that he never gave anyone else much of a chance.
“It’s about the grind, and that’s what I did,” he said. “I didn’t really have it in drive, I just had it in neutral all day.”
What made his spine tingle was what everyone remembers about that day.
Was there a more indelible image than Woods walking up to the 18th green, red shirt blazing, as thousands of fans rushed under the ropes and followed him down the fairway to create a stage worthy of the occasion?
“It gives me chills almost every single time I see it,” Woods said. “At the time, it didn’t seem like that because I didn’t really look back. I only looked back a couple times over my right shoulder. … I got on the green, I looked and I’m like, ‘Holy cow, there’s a lot of people out there.’
“But the rush and the commotion that happened … I’ve experienced things of that nature, but not that energy.”
It was like that at the Western Open in 1997, the year he changed the face of golf. It was like that when he won the British Open both times at St. Andrews. That was when he was expected to win all the time. And maybe that’s why he says East Lake had “its own aura and its own energy.”
It was so great that Woods isn’t sure he’ll ever feel that again.
“Maybe one day it might, who knows?” he said. “All I know is that it was really loud and very special.”
Tommy Roy won’t forget it for other reasons, mostly an interview that nearly brought him to tears.
Roy is the lead golf producer at NBC, and the network usually asks three or four contenders after the third round for a quick interview with host Dan Hicks, which then would be aired at appropriate moments during the Sunday telecast.
For the better part of two decades, NBC asked Woods to come in for the brief interview, and Woods always politely declined.
“Except for Saturday night,” Roy said. “Dan ended up doing this quick interview, and Tiger was unbelievable. He’s usually so guarded, but this included a sound bite about wanting to win again for his kids. I got tears in my eyes it was so powerful.”
Roy wanted to save it for the right moment, when Woods was assured of winning.
Billy Horschel made a late run to get within two shots, and Woods was in trouble on the 17th hole, enough to make Roy wait. But then Woods saved par, and he cleared the last trouble with an approach on the par-5 18th over the water and into the bunker.
Roy gave the order to cue the tape and for Hicks to set it up.
But then he saw on his monitor the chaotic celebration unfolding, and he urgently shouted, “Stop!” To play the minute-long interview clip about winning for his two children would have meant losing images of fans’ reaction to a moment they weren’t sure they would ever see again.
“We never aired the sound bite,” Roy said.
Roy couldn’t think of big moments with so little bounce, except for perhaps the Olympics. Gold medalists are celebrated for their greatest feats, and then largely forgotten for the next four years.
Four months is better than four years.
Woods makes his 2019 debut this week at Torrey Pines.
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