And in this Corner, the Challenger is…
June 21, 2010 15 Comments
Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, Vijay Singh, Retief Goosen, Sergio Garcia. It has been and still is a revolving door for players who could potentially be Tiger Woods’ version of Rafael Nadal. A player who has consistently challenged Tiger Woods in major championships has been absent throughout his career. There is much reason to believe that Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time but the fact that there has never been a true contender in the other corner of the ring makes you wonder if he really can be placed on the top of the pedestal.
Yesterday, Graeme Mcdowell outlasted a number of top players in the world to win the 2010 United States Open at Pebble Beach. Mcdowell came into the final round 3 shots behind Dustin Johnson, who was 6 under par after 54 holes. However, Dustin Johnson had what was possibly the biggest collapse in US open history. He posted an 82, which was the worst final round for a player leading after 54 holes. As in most other major championships, no one stepped up to the plate to take the tournament. Ernie Els, who at one point was at 3 under during the final round, eventually faded into the night finishing at +2. Phil Mickelson, who is known as both gambler as well as a perennial choker also had a very legitimate shot to win, but ended up at +3. The 391st ranked Gregory Havret out of France was very solid throughout the day, but on most days solid isn’t going to get the job done. Havret was the runner-up to Graeme Mcdowell, shooting a +1 for the day and finishing the tournament at +1. The US Open Champion Mcdowell did not by any means step up at all. He was given the tournament on a solid gold platter by his peers. Who could have predicted that Mcdowell could shoot a 3 over 74 on day 4 and still win the US Open? Not me.
Many of the players, including champion Graeme Mcdowell, blamed the tough course for the poor play. It was evident that this was partially the case but I think that the players poor play was equally to blame. If you watched the entire US Open you would have noticed that players were missing fairways, hitting bunkers, and things that you shouldn’t be blaming the course for. There is no excuse for not one player in the top 12 to shoot under par.
The most surprising play though came from Tiger Woods who started the day at -1 and ended up at +3. This sure doesn’t sound like the golfer that golf fans have come to know. Tiger Woods is best known for stepping up his play on the final day of a tournament and most notably in majors. However, after yesterday Tiger Woods is actually 0-43 in Majors when not leading after 3 rounds. Yes, Tiger Woods has won 14 majors when leading after 54 holes and on only one occasion has he given up a lead after 3 rounds of a major. Really though, what does this say about the competition that Tiger has had to face throughout his career?
Many people speculate that the reason players never really stepped it up to take a tournaments away from Tiger was a combination of Tiger’s uncanny mental toughness, skill, and intimidation factor.
Those reasons could not be farther from the truth. I think it is apparent that the reason for players not consistently upping their game a couple notches is because they are simply not good enough. In the Tiger generation there has not been one player with the talent and mental strength to challenge Tiger. None of it has to do with Tiger himself, Tiger just happens to be a much better all-around golfer than everyone else. It showed when Tiger was injured in 2008 and as usual players would do their best to cough up leads. It shows when Tiger is not in contention on the final day of tournaments and players still want to do their best impersonation of Santa Claus and gift wrap tournaments.
Well you must be asking yourself what this has to do with Tiger not being the greatest of all time. If he is a way better golfer than anyone else on tour, how could he eventually not go down as the best ever? One name. Jack Nicklaus. Unlike Tiger, the Golden Bear played during quite possibly the most competitive period in golf history. Nicklaus was always faced with legitimate players who stepped up their game when it mattered most, rather than guys who just roll over when the going gets tough. With Tiger there have been players who have stepped it up but as I said, not on a regular basis. Names like Rich Beem, Y.E. Yang, and Zach Johnson come to mind, but where are they now?
In all stages of Jack Nicklaus’ career he faced players that will go down as some of the best ever. During the early stages there was Arnold Palmer and Gary Player who each won 7 and 9 major championships respectively. Then you have a guy who came along by the name of Tom Watson. Watson is still making cuts and even contending in majors to this day. Tom Watson has won 8 majors in his career. The last true contender in Nicklaus’ career was Severiano Ballesteros who “only” won 5 majors.
In Nicklaus’ quarter century of golf supremacy he won a total of 18 majors. What people fail to see when this stat is presented to them is how many times he was pushed to the brink by some of the all-time great golfers. Jack Nicklaus was the runner-up an astounding 8 times to just those 4 players I mentioned above. Compare that to Tiger Woods who has barely even had a Seve Ballesteros to rival him.
Probably the most notable rival for Tiger Woods is Phil Mickelson who has won 4 majors. But at a certain point in his career it was thought that maybe Phil Mickelson just didn’t have the mental make-up to win a major tournament. Doesn’t sound like a true contender to me. A couple other notables that I mentioned are Vijay Singh and Ernie Els who each have 3 majors. This is the “big” 3 that Tiger has had to take on in his career.
Back in his prime when Tiger was winning major championships by double-digit strokes I’m not sure that he could have been beaten by anyone. But those times were not long lived. In the days when Tiger had to really start fighting for his majors he was still not challenged by anyone. When Tiger would go into the lead on Sunday and not come up with his best stuff there was no one to take it away from him, which is why Tiger is 14 for 15 when leading after 54 holes in a major. The one time that Tiger lost after 3 rounds was when he gave up a 2 stroke lead to Y.E. Yang, who shot who a very mediocre 70 to win the PGA championship.
There is no doubt that Tiger has as good a mental make-up as any champion in the history of sports. In the league of guys who come up big at big times, Tiger is right up there with the likes of Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Roger Federer. The one thing that was missing was a rival like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer. I can’t recall a time in a big tournament where Tiger Woods went shot for shot with an “arch rival” to see who could take the tournament away from the other. There has been nothing like the 2008 Wimbledon final. Anthony Kim? Ryo Ishikawa? Are either of these guys the next great thing in golf? Through the law of averages you would think the golf world is due for another great golfer and a true challenger.