Tiger Woods followed up his top-six finish at The Open with a second place finish at the PGA Championship that proved the obvious:  vintage Tiger has roared back. 

The man shot consecutive rounds of 66 as an encore to his brilliant 63 in the second round on Friday.  For his efforts—a 16-under finish—the 2018 U.S. Open champion, Brooks Koepka, winner of three of the last six majors in which he has been eligible, was crowned victor of the 100th playing of the PGA Championship at Bellerive.

Viewers at home would not know Koepka was basking in such rarefied air, given the smattering of light applause he and his pairing mate, Adam Scott, received throughout Sunday’s final round.  Just two holes ahead of them, in the third-to-last group, wailed vociferous roars for the story of this year’s PGA Championship:

There loomed the heroic play of one Eldrick Tont Woods, a legend who performed like the Tiger of old, a man roughly a year removed from reconstructive surgery to fuse his spine, the fourth overall procedure on his back, an undertaking that made it difficult for him to compete at all, let alone at the Everest heights he scaled on Sunday.

To recap, the beginning to Tiger’s first round proved reminiscent of the Hindenberg crisis, in which Woods managed a disastrous +3 after two holes.  He would pull even before Thursday was out, a position that was dangerously close to his not making the cut.  After eleven holes on Friday, Tiger’s second round was suspended, forcing him to play 29 holes on Saturday to the tune of 5 strokes under par, placing Wood within four strokes of the leader, the ever-steady Brooks Koepka, heading into Sunday.  In his press conference Saturday, Tiger remarked that the amount of golf he played was not as physically taxing as it was mentally exhausting, which potentially did not bode well for his chances at winning his fifteenth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Overall, Tiger did not appear the slightest bit fatigued, as he mustered a 64 on Sunday, his best final round in any previous major, his 14-under for the PGA Championship putting him in a position to leap past Adam Scott for a second place spot all to himself.

Consequently, four holes proved instrumental in deciding Tiger’s final position:  17 in the third round, in which Woods, channeling the swagger of old, triumphantly marched to the hole the instant he struck the ball, approaching the hole for an eagle attempt that proved far too daunting as his subsequent birdie try within five feet of the cup, a lock no matter the phase of his career, fell short; 1 on Sunday, in which a birdie try lipped out; 11 on Sunday, in which a 27-foot birdie attempt fell a hair short of dropping; and 14 on Sunday, the second of two bogeys on the day with Tiger heading into the hole one shot off the lead.

But just as several balls refused to drop for Tiger, Koepka, who lead the tournament in overall driving distance, regularly blasted long drives onto the fairway and consistently stuck shots firmly on the green, rarely leaving him at two-putt distance all day, feats that even the masterful Woods himself failed to muster.  And while Tiger’s ascension to former greatness—a miracle considering the space of time, ten years, since his last major victory at the 2008 U.S. Open and the state of a crippled back that forced the 14-time major champion to alter his swing, approach, and overall game—is praiseworthy, it should not besmirch what Francesco Molinari and Brooks Koepka accomplished at The Open and PGA Championship respectively.  Never mind what Koepka achieved as tournament champion at the U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills, a USGA-approved course that devoured the field, Tiger included (he failed to make the cut).

Regardless, Tiger, who did not hit a single fairway on the front nine, scrambled out of trouble like nobody else possibly could, one of the most impressive facets to his game post-2008, providing two vintage moments that had to be witnessed in order to be fathomed, one of which might have set a course decibel record:

The mobs were back.  Like old times, a fist was pumped after a scramble for birdie on 9.  A club was raised before a birdie putt even dropped on 13.  He feigned an attempt at suppressing his fury on an approach shot that did not fall on 15, illustrating his dissatisfaction despite our collective gaping at the mastery of his iron work.  He smiled regularly throughout the day, tipping his cap to the crowd that applauded his tournament finish, a birdie that left him at 14-under for the tournament, his best finish without winning a major tournament outright.  Even Brooks Koepka’s girlfriend Jena Sims was in complete awe of Tiger as her beau entered the clubhouse to claim the Wanamaker Trophy.

Despite not winning the PGA Championship, the remainder of the season still contains some thrilling opportunities for Tiger:  the FedEx Cup playoff and a one-on-one affair with Phil Mickelson near Thanksgiving, by which the winner will earn a cool $10 million.  For a player who began the year as the 656-ranked golfer in the world (after Sunday, he is now 26th, a breath away from Sergio Garcia), how he closed out July and began August with a top-6 finish at The Open and a runner-up berth at the PGA Championship proved that Tiger Woods has roared back as a player capable of winning a major again, a stance nobody could have possibly believed before this year’s Masters.

While Jack Nicklaus’s major victories’ mark remains safe, the legend of Tiger Woods has yet to be drafted with a major or two within reach.

Given his rabid following today via social media and on the course at Bellerive, Tiger Woods affirmed what we already knew of his transcendence:  no single athlete, not Babe Ruth, Muhammad Ali, Wayne Gretzky, Serena Williams, nor Michael Jordan, has influenced his or her respective sport in quite the fashion Tiger has.  Anyone could tell you that golf, if not the sports world, is at its best when Tiger is donning his trademark red and black, a major tournament within his grasp as it was in the previous two tournaments abroad and at home.

Can you imagine what a fifteenth major victory could do for Tiger’s legacy at 43, his age entering 2019?  We have but 238 days to find out.

I am an English teacher, music and film aficionado, husband, father of two delightful boys, writer, sports fanatic, former Long Islander, and follower of Christ. Based on my Long Island upbringing, I was groomed as a Yankees, Giants, Rangers, and Knicks fan, and picked up Duke basketball, Notre Dame football, and Tottenham Hotspur football fandom along the way.