Monday, August 9, 2010

Free fallin'

A little tribute to Tiger’s Woods’ game of late…

Anyway, the bottom line is that the man cannot make a 4 foot putt anymore. I noticed this at the Masters, and by the time the USOpen concluded I knew that his major problem was putting. All the other golf stuff will fall in line if he can make putts at will again. If you can make key putts, you never mentally check out or exhaust yourself; on the other hand, if you cannot make putts to save a hole from bad shots or to capitalize on good ones, you don’t much see the point in playing golf….or in keeping score, at any rate That’s where Tiger is right now. It is really as simple as that, and it always has been.

BTW, for those who constantly bitch and whine about the amount of coverage Tiger always gets on TV, this year should be proof of why. Let me add that I am frequently frustrated by the telecasts---I would like to see much of the rounds of at least the last 6 groups, instead of a few shots from one group followed by fluff pieces and commercials --- but it is fashionable for (prejudiced) people to whine about TV showing every Tiger shot all the time and this is what I’d like to address. This Tiger-centricity came about for 2 main reasons: (1) It’s what delivers viewers and so networks will stick with it. Viewership (and ultimately the mighty advertizing dollar) justifies all kinds of popular garbage on TV so why should it not justify attention on the most compelling player in golf? (2) Nobody delivered like Tiger. Nobody. And now that Tiger can’t break 70 if his life depended on it, nobody has stepped up to deliver. For the past 6 months, Tiger has basically offered up the World #1 ranking to anyone who may want to take it. There have been multiple instances where Mickelson could have won or finished really high and taken the mantle. This past weekend Westwood or Mickelson could have wrested the #1 ranking from Tiger just by finishing decently---combined with the fact that Tiger almost finished DFL (dead effing last). But they even screwed that up. Westwood had two bad rounds and then withdrew due to injury—the official news is that it was his calf but I’m guessing there was a bit of injury to the confidence there too. And Phil --- the man Tiger haters love to love --- the Great White Hope in the Tiger era --- the man who has all the tools to make a sustained run at the #1 spot --- Phil the thrill --- folded like a lawn chair yet again. Coming into Sunday, he was placed well at 10th place or so, four shots behind the leaders, needing to climb up only to fourth place to finally get the #1 ranking in the sport. Tiger, having a disastrous week, had already finished his round with an abysmal 7-over par 77 well before Phil teed off. And Phil, with everything to gain --- the tournament itself, the #1 ranking, some great momentum going into next week’s PGA Championship --- lit up Sunday with a sterling 8-over par 78. Mind you, this was a day when the final leaderboard showed 11 of the top 14 finishers shooting rounds under 70, including two 64s, two 65s, a 66, and three 67s.

Sooooo, yeah. All the Tiger haters need to see, understand and accept what Tiger’s collapse has revealed. There is currently no #1 player in golf. Indeed, there hadn’t been for a while before Tiger showed up. And now that he is in stunning and incredible free fall, there is again no #1 player. There is no one who, with his skill and will on the course, can make this sport quite as watchable as Tiger did.

Sure, as Tiger continues to spiral down and as others continue in their spotty mediocrity there will soon be someone other than Tiger who is ranked #1. But undertand this: golf will, as it does now, have a #1 ranked player, but it will still be without a #1 player. Until Tiger returns…if he ever does. Or until some kid like McIlroy steps up and takes charge.

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scribbler50 said...

Great stuff, Stache, and I agree.

But the funny things is, (well, not the funny thing but the main thing), aside from his glorious talent is the fact that he's lost his mental edge. And not just, as you point out, where it comes down to putting. It's the other stuff.

See, one of the things he had going for him almost from day one was that air of invincibility when he walked up to the first tee. Everyone stayed away from him, everyone shook just a little bit in their cleats. (Think young Mike Tyson and the guy standing across from him before the bell rang.) Well all that's gone now, maybe never to return. This guy has been damn near mythical for the past ten years, and now he's seen forever after as human.

Even Jack Nicklaus said once something like, "These guys are defeated before they tee up, he's got them psyched out." And so, to paraphrase the great Yogi Berra by switching sports here, if "Golf is ninety percent skill and the other half mental", Tiger has lost that other half. Again, maybe forever.

I mean when did you ever dream you would hear some asshole, and I DO mean asshole, yell to Tiger Woods on the golf course, "Why don't you just quit, you're all washed up." Of course he's nowhere near washed up but maybe his mojo is... that intangible something. And that was clearly a big part of his strength. They all have enormous talent on the tour but Tiger had that extra something besides. Now there's blood in the water and the sharks are circling.

Anonymoustache said...

Agreed, Scrib50, that the mystique is gone on all fronts. But I just think it boils down to putting.
Here's something most people do not appreciate---the entire game of golf revolves around the short game and works up from it. When you can chip and putt your way out of any and all jams, you don't feel the pressure on your irons. When you don't feel pressure with your irons, you end up sticking them closer and closer to the pin. When you hit your irons well, you don't feel the need to kill the driver to get way down the fairway. When you don't press hard with the driver, you usually hit it straight and long enough. Amazing how that happens but it is really as effing simple as that. Even for the top pros.
Tiger always sprayed shots, man. But he always made legendary putts. From way back in his US Am days (the legendary comeback against Steve Scott, I think, at Pumpkin Ridge), to his early pro days (against Bob May at Valhalla comes to mind), to the Presidents Cup saving putt in S. Africa, to the incredible comeback against JB Holmes in the world matchplay a few years ago, to the putt that got him into the USOpen playoff at Torrey Pines in 2008.....throughout his career he has made huge putts. Innumerable times, some of his huge putts were from 3 or 4 feet---but they were putts that nobody else could sink with that consistency when it really mattered. THAT is what gave his game the dominance that it enjoyed for so long.
And THAT is why I am not sure he can recover his game completely ever again. He is hitting the age when many legends have had putting problems---once you get the yips, you're pretty much toast. The number of short key putts he has missed in just the three majors this year is incredible---and I think it is creating some mental scarring that may be hard, if not impossible, to get rid of.
We shall see---this promises to be interesting.