Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Tiger’s Lucky 13

The last time I wrote about Tiger Woods' golf play in a “Major” was when he lost to Angel Cabrera in the 2007 U.S. Open a couple months back. I’m afraid I didn’t cut him a whole lot of slack after that loss, and I suppose I should have considering his baby daughter was about to make her entrance into the world.

In that post I also questioned Tiger’s continuing loyalty to his caddy, Steve Williams; I disparaged the robust New Zealander, perhaps unfairly, saying that his greens reading ability seemed to be wanting.

It’s funny how a win can suddenly change attitudes and outlooks. As far as I’m concerned, all is forgiven. Steve Williams, Tiger’s faultless Kiwi caddy, is the man; and Steve’s unbeatable boss man, El Tigre, is EL SEÑOR!

Am I a fair weather fan or what!

How wonderful is it to be retired and not have to worry about staying up for three or four straight days from 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. to watch Tiger play live in all the annual major championships? Well, its VERY wonderful! I do it four times a year, once for each of the four majors; but I almost didn’t continue to stay up all night after Tiger’s ho-hum score of 71 on Thursday. I hung in there though, and after Tiger’s 63 on Friday I wasn’t about to miss even a moment of the rest of this year’s so-called PGA of America.

He almost set a new record in that second round when he came oh so close to shooting the first 62 ever in a major. With Tiger, you EXPECT the man to break records every time he plays, and that record 62 was SO tantalizingly close! On the final putt the ball was half way into the cup when it lipped out instead, very nearly doing a 180. Still, his 63 ultimately provided him the cushion he needed to win the tournament two days later.

As I said, I had missed most of Thursday’s first 18, and after seeing that Tiger was 6 shots back and apparently nearly out of contention I almost blew off doing the rest of the 3 sleepless nights in a row thing. I decided to go ahead though, when I saw that “rip it & grip it” John Daly had the lead. I figured, ‘What the heck, might be interesting,’ and as it turns out, I stayed up instead to see El Tigre roar to the front of the pack in one fell swoop because of that magnificent 63.

Poor John Daly did his usual “thing” for the crowd, which is to “swing for the fences,” and quickly fell away on the leader board when he continued to hit “foul balls” instead of homeruns; but he did get plenty of “oohs and ahhhs” though, so all was not lost for the chunky blonde Arkansan.

Watching it on TV from here in the Philippines, the Tulsa Southern Hills golf course used for this year’s PGA didn’t look all that hard, but from the generally low scores, it must have been a real doozy. The fairways looked exceptionally narrow and virtually hemmed in by tall trees, while the greens looked similarly well-guarded by lots of sand and water; but the real killer were the roughs.

In the hot dry summer climate of Oklahoma, the grass of choice for most golf courses is the hardy Bermuda variety; but it’s wiry and tough, and can almost pull the club out of a golfer’s hands when trying to swing through it. Again and again I’d see shots barely roll out off the second fairway cut and literally disappear into the Bermuda rough; or just the opposite, the ball would come to a rest high on top of the thatch of thick tendrils so that a swung clubhead passed almost completely under it and cause an embarrassing whiff. That tricky rough was the real culprit for all the low scoring. They should have put signs up on the edges of each fairway: “All ye who enter, BEWARE!”

Watching him play to his 13th Major win I thought back on Tiger’s career. A few years after he first hit the professional circuit more than a decade ago, his incredible distance off the tee was the talk of the town and that unmatched ability to hit the long drive began to get under people's skins--the guy just wasn't human. Not so much anymore, but back then, off the tee, he could pop a ball easily 30 or 40 yards past most of his competition. Now, the other players all have learned to hit almost as long, so the "long ball" isn't quite the advantage it once was for "The Tig." But at the time, the chatter was that it wasn’t fair and that perhaps “something” should be done to “Tiger proof” the courses.

Simply lengthening the fairways wouldn’t work; that would just play into Tiger’s strong suit. Even though no one in the PGA has admitted it, I’m sure they started trying to “equalize” the play by “adjusting” course designs in ways to make accuracy as important, or more important, than distance. The problem is that virtually everything they’ve tried, whether making the greens more “slippery,” narrowing the fairways, or adding sand traps, water hazards, and trees, NOTHING has worked to stop Tiger’s domination.

The problem, if there really is one, is that Tiger’s game isn’t just about hitting the ball far, although that’s always been one of his talents. The man is accurate too. I’ve seen him on TV do demonstrations of that accuracy. He’d hit a tiny target with an iron from progressively further away, as far as 50 or more yards, something that seems almost impossible to the average player.

During one of his British Open wins, I first remember Tiger using his ability to use long irons with great precision to hit his famous “stinger.” A stinger shot is where he uses a two or three iron to strike the ball so that while traveling a long way, it never gets more than 10 feet off the ground. The winds were so strong during that tournament that any shot over 15 feet high was at the whim of the swirling gusts and could end up anywhere, usually at the bottom of a deep pot bunker. Because of his ability to hit that stinger, Tiger won that one running away; and you know it wasn’t an easy shot, or everyone else would have been doing it too.

The irony is that in trying to reel him back to the “mortal players,” what they throw at him, of course they throw at the other players as well. It never works—Tiger usually adjusts better than most anyone else out there, so it just doesn’t matter what they do. When he beats the course he usually wins the tournaments as well. The only way to bring Tiger Woods back to the field is to either make him play blindfolded or to just handicap him—make him start out with 5 or 6 strokes. I’m joking, but its true. Supposedly in jest, his fellow players, all exasperated, say this exact same thing all the time.

The “problem” with Woods is that he doesn’t really have a single strong suit; his entire game is solid. When one facet fails him, the rest of his shots are still available to carry him to victory. It’s no wonder then that he ALWAYS seems to be at or near the top of the leader board. The amazing thing is that he’s in contention EVERY time he plays. None of the other world’s top ten players can say that. In fact, no one is even half as consistent as Tiger Woods.

A few years back I made a remark to my brother that Woods must be some kind of natural phenomenon, as if God sprinkled Jack Nicklaus dust on him when he was born.

He disavowed me of that notion very quickly when he remarked, “Nah, no way. The guy is good because he’s practiced since he was 2 years old. He worked hard to get that way and you diminish his skills by saying it all just came naturally, as if he didn’t have to try.”

My brother is right. Tiger Woods is an athlete that has perfected every portion of himself that makes him successful at golf. His body is sculpted muscle and trained sinew designed in his workouts for golf and golf only. He has a complete handle on the mental side of the game, which is perhaps THE most important part. I’ve heard say that his Buddhism helps keep him unruffled and focused. His dad instilled a work ethic that drives him to hit thousands of practice shots in ALL conditions. He practices in the rain, cold, heat, and wind; because he knows he might just have to compete in those circumstances. Somehow, I just don’t think that other players like the overweight Darren Clark or the similarly paunchy and cigarette smoking Angel Cabrera takes their training as athlete-golfers nearly as seriously as Woods does.

The best way to play Tiger competitively is to NOT play WITH him, because if he can see you across the tee, or across the fairway or on the green, he WILL beat you. In fact, the best thing that could have happened to Angel Cabrera during this year’s US Open that he went on to win was that he was NOT paired with Tiger during that last round. If he had been, it’s almost a certainty that he would have gotten spanked. Tiger’s very presence seems to cause unforced shotmaking errors and mistakes in judgment in players attempting to tee off with him. It’s almost funny.

So what is it about Woods that causes other players to breakdown out on the course once they “earn” the dubious privilege of pairing with him? I chuckle every time I hear the brave words quoted from these luckless fellows during their pre-match interviews. They'll say things like, "he's beatable," "I'm just going to keep playing MY game," or "...its a thrill," or "I'm looking forward to it." Yeah right! They don't mean a word of any of it.

As soon as they start play these "big talkers" wilt like day-old cut lettuce. During this year’s PGA he did it to Tway on Friday, to Verplank on Saturday, and on Sunday to Ames.

He ALWAYS does it, and I love it that he does. He’s like history on legs. Who was it that broke Hank Aaron’s homerun record, Bonds was it? I forget, because that cheater doesn’t come close to the legacy being made by Tiger Woods.


KA said...

In my opinion, Tiger's the only one worth looking at in that sport. yummmm

PhilippinesPhil said...

I can see why you would say that Kat. He's got it ALL doesn't he?

KA said...

hellz yeah! *giggle*

Ed said...

I have to admit, I never watched golf until Tiger came around. He made it worth watching again.

PhilippinesPhil said...

As a onetime golfer myself, I've ALWAYS watched him, ever since he began winning all his US Amateur titles (he won 4 of those!)It isn't just Tiger that draws me to the game; its the civility. I've stopped watching ALL the other pro sports because of the attitudes of the players and the fans. I hate the chest beating, the disrespect for players on the other teams, the fights, the acrimony, the drugs, the dog fighting, all of it just turns my stomach. Golfers actually tell her each other "good shot!" even as they try to beat the pants off each other. They still shake hands before and after each round, usually with hats off. THAT is the way the world SHOULD be, NOT the in-your-face, chest thumping behavior I see during the NFL, NBA, NHL, soccer and MLB.