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Woods making a case for No. 1 again

After his weekend stumble in the recent US Open, Tiger Woods was asked about his confidence.

He replied, “I feel good. I wasn’t very far off today.”

Alan Shipnuck wrote in Sports Illustrated, “Woods used to lie only to reporters. Now he’s lying to himself.”

Shipnuck added, “Woods’ lost weekend should put to rest any notion that he is ‘back.’ The single-minded, indomitable player who lived in a bubble of his own making is never coming back. Woods will win more tournaments but he’s now like a lot of other guys on Tour—he can hit all the shots, but he is vulnerable to pressure and undermined by doubt.”

Shipnuck may be right. None of us knows. We’ll have to wait and see what’s down the road.

Meanwhile, though, Tiger is making a case for himself as the best player out there again. Who’s having a better year?

He has won three times this year, a huge year for the average Tour player, and he has done it on golf courses that demand excellence, patience and resolve – Bay Hill, Memorial and Congressional.

That is reminiscent of Jack Nicklaus, the man whom Woods passed into second place among all-time winners Sunday and whose record of 18 major championships Tiger is chasing.

Nicklaus cared little for ordinary golf courses and shunned them whenever he could. He favored hard courses because he had more of what was required to play them than most. Woods is equally selective about where he plays.

The golf Woods played Sunday in a shootout with Bo Van Pelt for the AT&T National title at bitterly tough Congressional was about as close to flawless as you’re likely to see in such circumstances. There were a couple of missed drives and one serious misclub but there were also a spectacular Tigeresque recovery shot and a command of a course that played much harder than it had for the US Open a year earlier.

This is not to say he’s back to what he was before personal problems and injuries knocked him down. He may never be that again. But he’s drawing huge crowds of cheering fans and he’s driving TV ratings up. And he’s winning like old times.