As her little brother, Charlie, climbed all over Lindsey Vonn, Sam Woods sat patiently by East Lake’s scenic 18th green as her dad lined up a birdie to finish the 2013 PGA Tour season.
His effort narrowly missed — as too many have recently — and despite a closing 67, he finished ahead of only seven players in the elite 30-man field at the Tour Championship on Sunday.
But it seemed to matter little to the 6-year-old girl, who probably doesn’t care about Tiger Woods the golfer as much as she does Tiger Woods her daddy.
When he walked off the green, he stared straight ahead, as he always does, head down, pretending not to notice anyone.
But he’s got the world’s best peripheral vision and broke into a smile, while never once looking at her, when his daughter — like her brother and Vonn, dressed in Tiger Sunday red — made a beeline for him.
Sam flashed a toothless grin, grabbed him by the waist and away they went; suddenly, finishing second in the FedEx Cup to Henrik Stenson didn’t sting quite so much.
“That’s what life’s all about,” Woods later said of his kids. “There are more important things in life than hitting a little round ball and putting it in a gopher hole, y’know.”
And maybe this is the story of Tiger Woods — a man we measure and shape and forever compare against a memory.
The 37-year-old Tiger is an excellent golfer; he won five times this year and reclaimed the world No. 1 ranking, had the lowest scoring average to win the prestigious Vardon Trophy and will probably — and deservedly — be crowned Player of the Year.
But he’s not the champion he used to be — a fact we’re reminded of at the majors and whenever he falls short of the stratospheric expectations created by his younger self.
And he reminds us he’s different now when he speaks of his achievements.
“Very satisfied,” Woods said of his season. “I had a number of chances to win some tournaments; I won five, which is, I think a pretty good year.”
Sometimes Woods will tell only half the story, but on this day, the long season over, he reflects on the other side, too.
“I wish I could have been a little more consistent in some of the events,” he said. “There’s certainly some weeks where I was just off.
“I always wish I could play a little bit more consistent and have a chance, each and every time I tee it up. That’s the intent. . . . It doesn’t always work out that way.”
Certainly, there had to be some disappointment in a season that promised so much, so early.
After his success at The Players — on a course he doesn’t like — in May, Woods got to four wins faster than in any season of his career.
But after that, there was only one more trophy — at the Bridgestone Invitational — amid more disappointment at the majors and indifferent performances in the FedEx Cup playoffs.
If the year revealed anything, it was that Woods was now more like his peers: He wins when it’s his week, but there’s no more stealing tournaments with the B game, as he’s often done throughout his career.
He was asked if he could accept this new paradigm.
“Well, I can live with the fact that I grind each and every day,” he said. “There are days when I just don’t have it. I don’t have my game. Game just doesn’t feel right. Body doesn’t feel right. Things just don’t work.
“But I still grind it out and post some numbers.”
He used to be unbelievably gifted in this last thing: Anyone out here can turn a 65 into a 69, but Woods would turn 73s into 69s like no one ever has.
“Over the course of my career, I’ve won many tournaments just because of that,” he said.
I reminded him of his last great run: from August of 2007 until he had knee surgery after the Torrey Pines US Open of 2008.
Steve Williams, his erstwhile caddie, is adamant there will never again be a stretch like that one again.
Woods played in 12 events and won nine, two of them majors. In the other three he finished runner-up twice and fifth.
Woods’ explanation for that and other similar runs throughout his career is simple: They were all about putting.
“I made everything,” he said. “Just like in 2000, I made everything that year. That particular year I finished, what, first in greens (hit in regulation) and second in putting? That’s a pretty good combo.”
Better, obviously, than pretty good.
Pretty good was this season, where he finished 22nd in greens hit in regulation and 14th in putting.
There were more questions to ask, about next year, about how he planned to exorcise his driver demons, about how he’d rediscover the putting magic he found earlier in the season.