I was rooting for Rocco. Nothing against Tiger, in fact, I think this win solidifies his spot as the best ever. All that’s left is for him to pass Jack Nicklaus with 18 professional majors and to call him “the best” would be indisputable.
But still, I was hoping Rocco could pull it off.
“He had to birdie 18, again, to tie me, and he did it. That’s why he’s so tough to beat,” Rocco explained in an emotional post-round statement.
You can’t say this was a walkover by any means. Rocco fought and fought and fought and by the time they got to 18 he had a one shot lead. The lead you knew he needed because Tiger was going to birdie the par 5, the last hole, and the one he birdied or eagled all week long. When he hit his drive in the fairway, you knew he’d at least hit it on and two putt for birdie.
But Rocco also “has his name on his bag,” as Fuzzy Zoeller used to say about guys you’ve never heard of, noting that they’re professionals as well.
“Rocco can make birdie and win,” I thought before he hit his drive into the bunker.
The usually reliable driver got him in trouble on 18, not giving him a real chance to go for it in two and win with a two putt. But he still had about a 15 footer to win it. “I might never have this chance again, so this putt is not going to be short,” is how he described his thought process to Roger Maltbie while he was walking to the playoff.
But somehow, you knew that Tiger would prevail.
Which got me wondering if his opponents, Rocco, Bob May and others somewhere in their minds aren’t thinking the same things.
The thing about Tiger that spooks these guys is the fact that he makes so few mistakes. When he needed to hit the ball in the fairway and knock his second shot on the green on 18, he did it. He didn’t over-try, or do anything differently. He just did his job.
“I figured if I did my job then what happens, happens,” he explained after making a 12 footer on Sunday to tie Rocco for the lead at 18.
Which is another difference between Tiger and the current crop of players on the PGA Tour. He’s confident in his own talent and just figures if he goes about his business, he’ll be fine. And what happens, happens. But the rest of them are scurrying all over the place trying to “elevate” their games and it just doesn’t work. That’s why I think it’ll take a whole new set of players, guys like Anthony Kim, to supplant Tiger (if ever).
Tiger has shown the kind of money that can be made in golf, and the level of fame that is also available. So the top athletes of the next generation will be considering golf as an option.
But for now, Tiger has shown that he’s capable of the focus and the execution to win under any circumstances.
Plus he’s the best putter, period. He’ll make it from anywhere, and you should expect him to make everything. Because he probably will.
But like a lot of people, I was still rooting for Rocco. I know him a bit and despite the “everyman” storyline they were following, Rocco is much more than that. When he lived in Ponte Vedra (right off the second fairway of the stadium course) he invited me over. Gave me his cell phone and his home number. Introduced me to his wife. In other words, was just normal.
An upper tier player with 8 wins on tour, Rocco just didn’t accept the “star” lifestyle. He lived in a nice house and enjoyed the perks that go along with the status of being a PGA Tour player, but he just was who he was.
I saw him this year at Bay Hill and he immediately stopped practicing and walked over to say hi. Actually we embraced like old friends and talked about how long we’d known each other.
He explained that he was healthy and expected to play a lot on Tour this year. He was working with Jimmy Ballard on a whole new swing and what was interesting to me was how Rocco was listening and reacting to the “coaching.” He was really trying and it was working.
If he had won, it wouldn’t have changed him, and the fact that he didn’t win won’t change him either. He’ll be known as the guy who extended Tiger to the max and a lot of people will know Rocco and more about him.
Which is good.