By Joel Beall
Tiger Woods stood on the 18th fairway, stoic as he gazed ahead. A disposition at odds with his environment, as a crowd of 10 deep stared back with angst and excitement. The broadcast said his tee shot travelled 258 yards to this spot, which was technically true but also not. Because it was a position not to be measured in distance, but time. A moment many thought would never come.
“Moment.” That’s the word. From the second his Stinger soared through the air until his birdie attempt fell short, Tiger gave us a “Moment,” with a capital M.
It was a Moment that had been discussed ad nauseum over the past five years, asserted and debated with varying degrees of sincerity, validity, believability. A Moment entertained only by the zealots and doubted by the masses, including the man himself.
For there had been numerous moments that made this Moment look remote. The injuries and surgeries and prolonged absences and tournament dropouts. The 85 at Memorial and the topped shots at Chambers Bay and putting three in the drink at Congressional. The vague non-update updates, and the ominous press conferences and the arrest. A fan had to be devout or delusional to keep the faith. Perhaps both.
Oh sure, there had been other moments, like the social-friendly practice clips and the testimonials from pros. There was the 2015 Wyndham Championship, and briefly leading an 18-player exhibition on a Friday afternoon. A nice Sunday performance at Torrey Pines this year, which has to go down as the most celebrated T-23 in tour history. His showing at PGA National was so good that “leader in proximity to the hole” became a universally recognized stat.
Then came this week, which was filled with different, seemingly more veritable moments. There was a solid display in tough conditions on Day 1 at the Valspar Championship. An almost mistake-free Friday the left him just off the lead. With a Saturday jammed pack with birdies and chip-ins and fist-pumps and club twirls, it appeared like the Moment was right outside the door.
And yet, for most of Sunday, the Moment never came knocking. The par 5s continued to throw curveballs (Woods, arguably the greatest par-5 player ever, currently ranks 179th in par-5 scoring this year). The irons weren’t as crisp. The putter, cold. And though the likes of Corey Conners, Brandt Snedeker and Justin Rose fell victim to the Copperhead course, Paul Casey and Patrick Reed painted the venue in red. It would be a promising turn for Tiger, another step in his progression towards the Masters. But the Moment would not happen on Sunday.
And then Woods dropped a 44-foot bomb on the 17th and all hell broke loose. (Let the record show this was not a “Moment” but a “Holy $#&%!” moment, which is unmistakably and emphatically distinct.)
Grown men began sprinting towards the next hole while announcers shrieked, throwing the facade of unbiased commentary out the window. Phones blew up across the country as friends and family asked, “Are you watching this?” There have been many an online article announcing someone just “broke” the Internet, but a glance at social media made the case this was actually happening.
In the ensuing chaos, Woods hit his trademark Stinger, an odd choice given he needed birdie on the 442-yard, uphill closing hole. But it’s a shot that’s so unequivocally cool that no one seemed to mind. And as he marched towards his approach, the Moment came to fruition:
Tiger Woods, and all the things that name conjures in 2018, was on the 72nd hole with a chance to win again.
In its entirety, the Moment lasted around 10 minutes, ending as Tiger’s third came to rest a few feet from the hole. When the day comes to properly eulogize his career, this Moment may only be mentioned in passing, if at all. Especially true if other, bigger Moments—be it at Bay Hill or Augusta National or fill-in-the-blank—transpire.
But for those that were lucky enough to witness, it was a Moment that will endure. The Moment was a confluence of elation and drama and hype and thrill and passion. The type of Moment that justifies investing so much time and energy watching this game. It’s the Moment you see in cheesy sports movies, only without the happy ending.
Speaking of which, this ending will cause some to dismiss the Moment. A player of Woods’ historical stature, so the thought goes, is only judged by victories, and Tiger left the Palm Harbor property without the trophy. And how much will the Moment mean if another injury or embarrassment happens, or if another win never comes? How much of a Moment can that truly be?
Of course, how it ended—or what lays ahead—is besides the point. A Moment remains a Moment, no matter the moments that follow.