Tiger might as well have been here. For all the great golf that was – or more correctly, was not – played, the most fearsome force in the game might as well have been battling the elements at Royal Birkdale like everyone else.
Ernie Els? An 80 on day one essentially knocked him out of contention.
Sergio Garcia? The pre-tournament favorite got progressively worse and finished with a sore wrist and a 78 on Sunday to finish at 17-over.
And Phil Mickelson? Please. He bumbled about so much, especially on the greens, it was as if he thought Tiger was there. Lefty finished at 14-over
None of these Tiger rivals took advantage of Woods’ absence. Thank goodness for Greg Norman.
Norman and his America’s Sweetheart Bride – a.k.a. Chrissie Evert – were the compelling story line, all the way through early afternoon Sunday when it became clear that the man widely known as “golf greatest victim” would not become the oldest golfer to win a major.
For who are not particularly golf fans, he was the only story line. But that does not diminish the stature of this event.
Nor did Tiger’s absence.
In almost every way, this was a true major golf championship. It wasn’t quite, as one ABC announcer breathless described it at the start of the telecast, “one of the greatest days in sports.” But it was a major. It was a a brutal test of skill and mental fortitude. It was as if without Tiger, the golf gods chose to remind us that they are in charge and that anyone who thought the field would open like the Red Sea without Tiger was doomed to be swallowed.
No asterisk needed.
Not only because Padraig Harrington defended his title. (Okay, so this is likely the only major he can win.)
But also because during the first two days of the tournament, K. J. Choi played like he can’t wait for Tiger to return.
Because a Wood – a twig of an amateur named Chris, a former soccer player from Britain – was a hometown hero, finishing tied for 5th at 10-over. (He just missed tying the best amateur finish here ever, 4-under by countryman Justin Rose a decade ago.)
But mostly because almost everyone looked like they were almost clueless in the 40 m.p.h winds that traversed the course and made even long putts an adventure.
Golf showed it can still matter, at least to those who care about the game. And as long as guys like Norman step up where the wannabees just can’t.
To those who don’t, to those who only care about Tiger, see you in ’09.