The guy is phenomenal. Tiger Woods’ performance at the Masters was thrilling, strong willed and gutsy. It didn’t have the magic of his other major championship victories, but it had grit and was a show to remember. Is it a Grand Slam? No. Call it the Major Slam or the Quad Slam, whatever you want, but call it magnificent.
Holding all four major championship trophies at the same time is a monumental feat. Something other players have thought about, most notably Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer. Neither was able to accomplish it, but both had it on their minds. Palmer in 1960, Nicklaus in 1971. The problem was, other players got in the way. Nobody has done that to Tiger Woods. Jerry Kelly couldn’t do it at the Players Championship. Bob May couldn’t do it at the PGA and neither David Duval nor Phil Mickelson could do it at this year’s Masters.
Duval and Mickelson haven’t won major championships. It could be just their bad fortune to be at the top of their games when Woods is in the prime of his. Duval is a special story. It’s not as if he hasn’t won. He’s not afraid to “go low” as evidenced by his 59 at the Hope two years ago. His fitness regimen is unparalleled. In fact, when you see a tournament in person, Duval and Tiger standout as athletes. Everybody else looks like a golfer. David seems to be carved from steel, Tiger looks more like A-Rod or Jeter than Hogan or Snead. Duval has played well enough to win four green jackets, but fate or misfortune, or a three-putt at 16 has gotten in the way.
Nobody is owed a Green Jacket. Nobody is owed a major championship. Just ask Greg Norman. Duval has prepared himself like nobody else, except Tiger. It would be unfair to characterize him as Ali’s Frazier or Affirmed’s Alydar. Only a look back at his career from the future could cast him in that role.
Mickelson’s problem could be very different. His inconsistency in decision-making and shot execution under pressure could be because he’s still a golfer, not an athlete. He doesn’t seem to approach it as a battle, a mano-a-mano competition. It seems to still be a country club game to Mickelson. A commitment to fitness might be part of the recipe for future major championship success.
While there’s no denying Woods’ genius, I would like to see a serious challenge mounted consistently by the competition. Woods is always the player who doesn’t make mistakes, who comes up with the special shot. Can’t anybody else pull a little magic out of their bag? Nicklaus bristles a bit when there’s a comparison made between his play and Tiger Wood’s current domination of the game. Nicklaus points out that during his prime, if he made a mistake, there was another player with major championship credentials ready to step in. He had to contend with Palmer and Player then Trevino and eventually Watson. He’s right about that. Woods’ accomplishments against the all-time records validate his greatness, but there’s nobody in today’s game who can put heat on him with credentials to back it up.
Mickelson and Duval haven’t won a major. Ernie Els, Justin Leonard, Tom Lehman, and Davis Love, major winners all, seem to disappear at the wrong moment. But I’m not going to fret about whether Tiger’s dominance is good for the game. I’m going to revel in it. Witnessing history happens all the time. But in this case, we just know it’s happening.