72nd Masters| Round 3

Time for Tiger to make a major comeback

AUGUSTA, Ga.

Most days, being Tiger Woods is good enough.

Today, he has to be Joe Montana, too.

Woods is behind on the scoreboard, and the clock is running. The doubts are swirling, and the winds are coming. His putts will not fall, and it seems that the course has fallen out of love with him.

In other words, it is time for Woods to play a role he is unaccustomed to playing.

It is time for him to turn into the Comeback Kid.

During the course of his career, Woods has been better suited as the conqueror, with no time for drama and no need for charging from behind. In the major tournaments, the ones that have defined Woods' legacy, he usually had a firm grip on the proceedings by the time the final round arrived. His plan has been to grab the lead and dare anyone to chase down a Tiger from behind.

Thirteen times in his career, Woods has won a major championship.

Thirteen times, he has carried the lead into the final round.

Thirteen other times, he has been within five strokes of the lead and didn't pull out a victory.

Never has Woods pulled a major championship out of the fire. He has not hit a last-second jumper. He has not rallied off the ropes. He has not hit a walkoff home run. He has not been Rocky or Roy Hobbs or Seabiscuit. Not once.

Perhaps that explains the doubts that hover over a golfer even as dominant as Woods. He shot a tidy little 68 on Saturday — and with any justice at all, it could have been 65 — to draw within striking distance of the Masters.

Still, six strokes back with 18 to play is a large load to lift, even for Woods. Not since Nick Faldo overtook a collapsing Greg Norman in '96 has a Masters winner come from six strokes back on the final day.

On the other hand, doesn't the legend of Woods need one of those?

This is how we remember the great ones, isn't it? For those days when they turned defeat into victory? We remember Michael Jordan for his last-second shots. We remember Roger Staubach for his furious two-minute drills. We remember Bobby Thomson for his ninth-inning home run.

Today, as Tiger spots Trevor Immelman six strokes, Brandt Snedeker four strokes, Steve Flesch three strokes and Paul Casey two strokes, the question must be asked.

Is it finally Tiger's turn?

Maybe.

For one thing, consider the four names in front of him. Immelman, Snedeker, Flesch and Casey? Doesn't that sound like a law firm that handles personal injuries? Aren't those the names of the members of Abba?

When it comes to golf, they are not exactly the Four Horsemen. Together, they have won six PGA Tour events and zero Masters. Who knows how their nerves will hold up on the final day.

On Day 3, however, they seemed to withstand the charge quite well. Shortly after Woods finished, there was a moment when he was within three strokes of the lead. But Immelman birdied three of his final six holes, and Snedeker birdied three of his final five. Odds are, all four golfers won't wilt.

For another thing, don't buy into the notion that Woods hasn't come from behind because he somehow lacks the quality that it takes to do so. That's just silly. Woods has come from behind often on the PGA Tour. He just hasn't done it in a major. Yet.

Eighteen times, Woods has won despite trailing after 54 holes. Considering his 48 nonmajor, stroke-play victories, that's a pretty good percentage.

On the other hand, who remembers little comebacks? If you are going to suggest that Montana had something special because of the way he came from behind in Super Bowl XXIII, isn't it fair to ask the same of Woods?

It should be pointed out that Woods would stand a considerably better chance today if his putter hadn't been so wobbly Saturday. For most of the afternoon, Woods could not persuade a cup to embrace his ball.

"I wasn't very far at all (from 65 or 66)," Woods said. "If you watched the round, a lot of putts were right over the edge. It's just one of those days. I only made one putt, really, the putt I made there at 10.

"This is the highest score I could have shot today. I hit the ball so well and I hit so many good putts that just skirted the hole. But, hey, I put myself right back in the tournament."

Today, Woods said, the key for him will be patience, not aggression.

"Anything can happen," Woods said. "You can shoot yourself right out of it, and you can put yourself right back in it."

Ah, but can you snatch it out of the fire? Can you wrest it out of someone else's hands? Can you come back and take it?

For Woods, 32, it seems like the next challenge.

For the rest of us, it seems like today would be a fine time to see him meet it.

Time for Tiger to make a major comeback 04/12/08 [Last modified: Sunday, April 13, 2008 10:12am]

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