“It was just one of those weeks,” is how Tiger Woods explained his dominating victory in the United States Open at Pebble Beach.
Sure. Winning by 15 shots is just one of those weeks. And Secretariat’s win in the Belmont Stakes was just one of those races. Woods’ display was awesome. The length of John Daly and the putting touch of Ben Crenshaw. Except better than both. And throw in the nicest chipping feel around the greens, great bunker imaginations and an accurate and long iron game and you have something close to what Woods is now.
Rocco Mediate got close when he said, “If you were going to build a golfer in a lab, he’d come out as Tiger Woods.”
He also has Nicklaus-like powers of concentration. Scotty Bowman, the NHL coach, was a marker for the USGA following Tiger’s group during the tournament. Bowman knows a little about concentration and said Woods’ focus is on the shot and his caddie, he’s oblivious to everything else. That was apparent before his last full swing of the tournament. Just 123 yards from the 18th green with a FIFTEEN shot lead, Woods and his caddie are throwing grass into the air trying to figure out how a slight cross wind might affect his pitching wedge. With a FIFTEEN SHOT LEAD!
“Anything I say would be an understatement,” commented Ernie Els, one of the best players in the world.
“I’m not surprised,” said Tom Watson, the best player of his era. Where did all of this come from?
Simple. From Woods’ measure of success. His measuring stick has always been winning. Remember when Tiger said “second place sucks” and we all thought that was so cute? So young? So true! He’s got winning on his mind and nothing else. One tour pro, paired with Tiger during the US Open said it best: “he plays every shot like his life depends on it.”
Tiger is the first great athlete to choose golf as his sport. Centerfield for the Giants, wide receiver for the Jaguars, off-guard for the Knicks, they were all possible destinations for an athlete as gifted and focused as Woods. The money in the game now allowed him to choose golf without pressure to take his talents elsewhere.
And he works at it.
Day and night, night and day.
Early in the morning, working on his putting because he didn’t like the way the ball was rolling. Late at night because he didn’t like the shape of his iron shots. A three day trip to Las Vegas with his coach where they spent the entire time on the range playing Pebble Beach in their minds, working on the shape of every shot they thought Tiger might need on every hole at Pebble.
Who else did that?
Did you see Woods walk from the 17th tee to the bunker at 17 in the final round? With his left sleeve pulled up and the wind in his face, it was apparent Tiger has spent plenty of time in the gym in the last 4 years. And it’s not idle working out. It’s focused, like his game, on making him a better player. Better strength, better balance. Eye surgery? Better to see the greens with my dear. At 24, Tiger Woods has no distractions. No wife, no kids, nothing to get between him and greatness. The funny part is how the other players are reacting. They’re throwing their hands up and saying “you win!” Most are making their schedules around Tiger’s. When he’s in a tournament, they’re not. If they want to compete in his league, they’ll have to get up early, stay late, and be relentless.
David Duval spent the off season trying to get more “athletic, trying to feel more like an athlete.” Perhaps he knew what Tiger was up to because two years ago David said about Tiger, “If he learns to hit a wedge, he’ll win 6 out of every 10 times he plays.”
As Ernie Els said, that might be an understatement.
Washington Post columnist Tony Kornheiser has it figured out.
“Everybody said there will never be another Michael Jordan,” wrote Kornheiser. “There already is. He’s playing golf.”