After four days of golf shots ranging from the sublime to the miserable, the most telling moment of Tiger Woods's return to golf came during his interview after completing Sunday's final round in a tie for fourth place. Woods reacted to a question about whether he was pleased with his result like he'd just eaten a rotten piece of fish slathered in mayo that had been left out in the sun for about a month.
He wasn't happy with anything, he said, because he didn't win. Not particularly Buddhist, perhaps, but pretty honest and absolutely the same thing he would have said after not winning any other tournament in his career. Anyone still wondering if we were watching a changed Tiger, on the course at least, died right there.
There probably weren't many wondering, though. Woods's occasional outbursts after shots over the weekend made it clear that his vow to take a more measured approach to the game was something easier said than done. It's hardly a big deal, although you wonder how much Woods could have possibly believed what he was saying if he couldn't summon up the willpower to make it four whole days before reneging on his promise.
That's just one facet of the main Woods-related takeaway from this weekend. When he's playing golf, he's exactly the same guy. The outbursts, the shotmaking, the intimidating glower and the way he forces you to watch his every stroke more than anyone else on the tour. Woods had runs of brilliant play and stretches of lackluster golf, a mixed bag that was fun and exciting to watch.
The balance of Woods and Phil Mickelson's spectacular weekend made for a highly entertaining event, an event that wouldn't have been nearly as interesting without Tiger's presence. Judging from the reactions of the gallery, the media and the television ratings, that's a pretty popular sentiment. Golf and Tiger always worked well together and some time apart has done nothing to ruin their relationship.
Where does he go from here? Some people will surely note the circumstances surrounding this performance and use them to make a case for Woods's greatness. That's unnecessary. We already knew he was a great golfer, this tournament merely reminded us of the fact, and nothing that's happened over the last few months has been about his golfing.
As Woods himself said during his bizarre initial public statement, it's been about believing in Woods, whatever that might mean, and nothing that went down at Augusta is going to sway anyone in any particular direction on that front. That's also true of what happens at the U.S. Open and the British Open, each of which are being held at courses Woods has owned in his career. The golf part remains exactly what it has always been for Tiger. The easy part.
It remains to be seen how the other part will shake out for him, but our hope is that watching Woods play this weekend served as a reminder of something. Tiger's a fantastic golfer which tells us exactly the same thing about him as a man that it did before his car accident launched a million mistresses. That would be nothing, other than that he's a fantastic golfer.