Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

When Tiger is on, most players are in the Woods

Good for Tiger
Good for Phil
.. and good for the game of golf.

Tiger Woods’ streak of winning consecutive golf tournaments is over. (Did you notice it went from winning 2 in a row, according to Tiger, to 6 in a row when the media decided that last year’s 4 straight also counted?) The streak brought a lot of attention to golf that it might not have gotten otherwise, and it brought to light how good players can be when they have their “A” game. Not just Tiger, but any of the top players in the world. Tiger is at a different level. No question about his ability, and he’s the best player in the world. But you can’t discount the talent, determination and ability of about 15 or so of the other top names in the game. Count David Duval, Davis Love, Fred Couples, Jose-Maria Olazabal, Ernie Els and even still Greg Norman plus a handful of other players in that top group.

For most players, a week where they have their “A” game going, means getting into contention, and maybe winning. For this group, it means dominating the competition, no matter who else is in the field, Tiger included. Look at Duval’s win at the Mercedes last year or Olazabal’s win at the World Series of Golf or Norman’s performance during his victory at the Players Championship. When these guys get going, nobody comes close. Tiger is at the top of the top, and has showed an ability to be in contention whenever he just makes the cut (which is why all tournaments should adopt the US open rule of all players within 10 shots of the lead make the cut after 36 holes). He’s great. The best of the best, but not enough credit is being given to the other top players out there.

In the final round of the Buick at San Diego, Woods admitted he wasn’t playing well, but still remained in contention. Why? He has a complete game. Dominating length. Solid short game, and confident putting.

“It’s disappointing the fact that I didn’t win,” Tiger said afterwards, ”but the positive thing is, you saw how poorly I played, to not hit the ball as good as I would like and not putt well the first couple of days, just to hang in there, chip and putt and just grind away at it and give myself a chance–I’m very proud of myself for that.”

When one part of his game deserts him, the others can pick up the slack. Not many other players can recover the way Tiger did yesterday, but the handful of top players can, and have done it. With Woods and Phil Mickelson tied after 13 holes, it was Woods who uncharacteristically made mistakes down the stretch while Mickelson hit the shot of the tournament, a 9 iron from 116 yards to 3 feet to set up a go-ahead birdie.

“Competing against the best player in the world and coming out on top means a lot to me,” Mickelson said. “The two things that I’m going to get from today are, one, the confidence that I can play against the best and I can win and, two, the next time I get a six- or seven-shot lead, I need to get tougher and try to make it eight, nine or 10.”

Woods is making other players better. Tougher competitors, stronger athletes. Duval’s off-season regimen was designed not to make him thinner, but to make him feel more athletic. He wants to have that churning in his stomach, the wobbly legs and the slight shake in his hands and know it’s from the pressure of competition, not from the fact that he’s out of gas. Rocco Mediate’s commitment to fitness is to allow him to compete against the likes of Tiger. Norman was the first player to emphasize physical fitness on the tour. Steve Elkington, Nick Price and others followed. Woods has sharpened the focus on the game, on what it takes to be truly great these days in the realm of big money, high-stakes, and global-spotlight professional sports. He’s the first, but he’s certainly not the last. Tiger is the beginning of a whole generation of good athletes who will choose golf or some other non-traditional national sport. Given a different upbringing, don’t you think Woods could be playing wide receiver in the NFL, or centerfield for some Major League Baseball team, or even one of the top mid-fielders on the US national Soccer team? He’s an athlete who chose golf, not a golfer who all of the sudden decided to be an athlete. Golf’s prize money has something to do with that. If it still was an afterthought in the sporting public’s mind with $20,000 purses, Woods might have been calling signals in this year’s Super Bowl. But the amount of money in the game is allowing top athletes to choose it as their sport. What Tiger’s doing now might seem unusual, but in 20 years’ we’ll see him as the vanguard of things to come.