There are two things that were confirmed in the Nicklaus' Memorial Tournament win on Sunday.
The first is that Tiger Woods is indeed back.
The second is that Tiger Woods indeed crazy—but maybe not in the way you think.
With the win in Dublin, OH, Tiger’s now tied for second in all-time PGA wins with Jack Nicklaus. For all of the people who suggested that his best days were in the past, that his aging and worn-down corpus couldn't do the things he’s asking of it anymore and that his mind would never be quite right again, he just served notice to the contrary.
His ground-up knees look just fine. His signature fist pump and roar were in perfect form as he sunk a shot on 16 that defied reason and better judgement. He’s even developed a new move, witnessed on 18 when he held his club high overhead—as if to strike a full-bodied No. 1 pose—moments after his ball disappeared into the ground to win the day.
He’s still wearing his signature red Nike shirt, which was on display while he hoisted the trophy on Sunday, but he’s a changed man—now single and with a new swing coach and caddie. As a player, his rebirth is complete.
He’s gone into the depths of the forest—where most athletes would surely have been lost in an abyss of doubt, regret and shame—and come out the other side the victor.
For all the trash talkers on the tour who danced on his grave, watch out. He's sprung anew and just in time for the U.S. Open in less than two weeks. You should be more shocked if Woods takes his winning streak through the U.S. Open, than if he doesn’t.
But make no mistake about it: Woods is back. He’s finally managed to redirect enough of his torrent of talent and chutzpah into a new place, and today was proof-positive of that fact.
The specifics are as captivating as they are exhaustive, but Woods’ victory was one of the more poetic in his peerless career. He matched Jack Nicklaus’ all-time PGA Tour total of 73 with a shot that left even the Golden Bear applauding in awe while looking on.
"The most unbelievable, gutsy shot I've ever seen," Nicklaus opined, according to aussiegolfer.net. "Look at the position he was in. If he's short, the tournament is over. If he's long, the tournament is over. He puts it in the hole."
Tiger stuck it to Rory Sabbatini—the one guy who’s consistently poked a stick in his ribs over the years. The South African walked into the day tied for first with a four-shot lead over Woods and ended the day two shots shy of a victory, along with Andres Romero.
There are those who will underscore the narrative that Woods overcame his arch rival in Sabbatini, but Tiger’s biggest foe has always been closer than any golfer standing next to him. Golf is predominantly played upstairs, and Woods is in a class all his own.
The shot on 16 was a fantastic shot to be sure, but it’s a makeable shot by myriad scratch golfers across the land. The key ingredient to the greatness of the moment was the timing of the shot. With failure and relative ordinariness breathing down his back, Woods chose to go for it. It’s a shot most pro golfers, who tend to be a bit more conservative in approach, would have balked at.
But Woods is just that gutsy. Or crazy. Or both.
Woods knows crazy. Non compos mentis seems to be a structured part of his game. It was at least a little crazy to be one of the highest-profile figures—not just in sports, but on the planet in any arena—and have the hubris to think you could pull off the quantity and quality of shenanigans he was entertaining and not assume it would all come crashing down one day.
And you have to have a sprinkle of crazy to play the kind of game he played on 16 today and across his career in general.
That tenuous connection with reality, in concert with sheer athletic excellence, has been his defining cocktail of mojo since before he could drive a car. In short, to shoot the way he shoots, with so much on the line, demands at least a pinch of insanity.
Astronauts, politicians, business tycoons and the greatest athletes alike all know crazy. They have to dance with it to believe they can do what no one else has, and Woods shows penchant for this reality distortion field. He’s playing golf as if the rules of reality don’t apply, but we all now know that he knows that they do apply.
And therein lies his unique brand of crazy.
After years in the wilderness of his mind, in the face of another defeat, a bit more shame and another inch towards professional obscurity, Woods did it again on Sunday. And now, he’s fully arrived at his new place. And here’s the really interesting part: Golf has never, ever had anyone like that.
Tiger’s always been a virtuoso; he’s a totally different kind of golf phenomena. But now, he’s like a drunk, hair-band rocker walking amongst chamber musicians. He might as well start trashing hotel rooms and having his caddie toss out room keys at every hole.
For the first time, golf officially has a bad boy.
Sure, there have been other players who have shown a flare for booze and women, but they couldn’t put together the combo of malfeasance and wins Woods has—and can—and will continue to for a long while. This is Tiger 2.0.
To climb that far out of the depths and make the call he did is the only proof you’ll need. He’ll be better than he was before—more dominant. He already is, actually, because he made the call on 16 that most would have either clinched away from or botched.
Out of probability, at some point in the future, in some place, on this planet or another, there's bound to be a greater golfer. Perhaps, in a generation or two? Perhaps, in 20 or more?
For now, there's no one, thus far, who has ever played the game better than Tiger.
Understand this: Woods is probably one of the only megastars who’s been vastly underrated in the prime of his career—not overrated, underrated. And that’s the case more than ever today. Sure, with Sunday’s win, he inched into No. 4 in the world—a position more abnormal and odd than a Barnum and Bailey contortionist.
Don’t think that he’ll be there for long. He’ll rise, and maybe even fall for a bit, but he’ll do it fast. Either way, like a rushing river, he’ll eventually get to his destination.
He’ll one day have more wins than any other golfer in history. Nicklaus will embrace him that day. Woods probably won't live long enough to do the same to anyone breaking his records. That’s the reality for Woods.
If you think anything other than that, perhaps, you should ask yourself who’s really crazy.