Tiger and Golf Are One

Golf is nothing without Tiger Woods and Tiger Woods is nothing without golf.

To fill the void that was left by Tiger Woods during his hiatus from relevancy on the PGA tour was impossible. When you know that something better is out there, complete satisfaction is out of the question. There was always the possibility that Tiger could return to a form close to his former self.

Rory McIlroy tried his best to put golf on the map without Tiger. He won the U.S. Open in a Tiger dominating fashion last year but has been crashing and burning lately. However, it probably doesn’t matter all that much for golf that McIlroy has been experiencing these bumps in the road on his way to superstardom.

Tiger is where it’s at.

As long as Tiger is able to show flashes of competing at a high level on the PGA tour, no one else will truly be relevant in golf. Rory McIlroy can win majors. The Duff Man, Jason Dufner, can use his namesake to win over crowds. Rickie Fowler can make fashion statements. Kevin Na can drive fans crazy. It won’t make any difference though.

To call Tiger’s chip on 16 magical would be an understatement. This kind of thing could only come off the blade of Tiger’s wedge. Magic is something that has come to be expected from Tiger Woods. It’s almost as if a shot of that magnitude was inevitable at some point.

Tiger Woods will never be the same dominating force that he was on the golfing scene but that doesn’t matter either. When Tiger is in the mix, there is always the anticipation of amazing. You never know when amazing is going to come but when it does, it is incredibly special. Not one person can complete a narrative the way Tiger Woods can.

Golf is not the same without Tiger because we know what we are missing when he is gone. Having something in your sights but just out of your reach is the worst feeling. That’s what it has been like with Tiger Woods flirting with relevancy. For the golf world to try to focus its attention elsewhere for the past 2 years was wasted effort.

Seeing that Tiger was physically but not mentally capable of putting his game together made things even harder for fans. Whether or not Tiger would be able to return to greatness was, and still is, up in the air but the hope that he will one day do so will not waver.

Tiger has ruined the game of golf for the time being. He isn’t only the face of golf. He is golf. If Tiger is physically capable of swinging a golf club in a PGA tournament, then the rest of golf doesn’t stand a chance of surviving without Tiger. Tiger and golf cannot be separate entities, at least not for now.

However, Tiger’s immense celebrity hasn’t ruined the game forever. There will be a grieving period when Tiger retires from golf. But once it soaks in for fans that Tiger Woods is not coming back, then golf can start fresh. The thing is, it might be a little while before golf can get its fresh start.

Nevertheless, one day, someone will come along and take the golf world by storm. However, until Tiger leaves the game for good, that someone is just going to have to wait.

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Rory McIlroy, Another Wasted Talent?

Is Rory McIlroy the next great choke artist in golf?

Rory McIlroy cemented his place in Masters history but not in the way that he would have liked. McIlroy did his best magic act as he disappeared off of the leaderboard faster than you could say Augusta. The young Irish “phenom” was the first player in a major to blow a four shot lead after three rounds in a major since the infamous Jean Van De Velde meltdown.

The excuses will be endless for Rory McIlroy especially considering his seemingly great rapport with the media. He’s too young, inexperienced, everyone has a bad day, Tiger was prowling, or maybe even it was too hot outside for the Irishman. The list is endless. Either way, those excuses may hold water for the time being but the big question that should be on everyone’s mind is whether McIlroy is another great golf talent cursed with the spell of the choke?

One bad round in an otherwise steady Masters tournament generally wouldn’t signal as much cause for concern, however this isn’t the first time that McIlroy has faltered under the pressure of a major. McIlroy shot a 9 under par 63 at St. Andrews in the 2010 first round of the British Open only to follow that up with an 80 in round two. He shot a 68 and 69 respectively over next two days, which left him in a tie for 3rd place.

It’s a scary thought to see the supposed next star in golf already having major issues with his nerves. After a couple of poor shots today McIlroy’s psyche was snapped like a fragile twig. That doesn’t happen to the great ones.

Nicklaus or Tiger aren’t collapsing the way McIlroy did yesterday afternoon. Even at 21.

It isn’t just the complete, utter breakdown that McIlroy went through. Of the golfers who sat above 4 under par to finish the tournament, there were only two other players on Sunday who shot over par. Those players were Fred Couples and Ross Fisher who ended up tied for 15th with McIlroy at 4 under.

What does it say about a player who shot an 80 while no one above 2 under par shot worse than a 73?

Moreover, aside from a very good final few holes in round 3, McIlroy was at best steady after his remarkable first round. He had ample opportunity to grab the tournament by the neck but time after time was unable to take advantage. Don’t the great ones run away from the field?

It would be sad for golf if Rory McIlroy soon became equated with such names as Justin Rose, Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott and Anthony Kim. As I wrote in January, the PGA desperately needs another player to add to the Tiger-Mickelson couple but once again a challenger has yet to emerge.

As a fan it is frustrating to see guys constantly falter on Sunday. The days of excusing players based on the Tiger factor are over. It’s about time people start getting in through their thick heads that Tiger’s supposed God-like aura was not the reason golfers choke. The onus is all on the players themselves.

Tiger’s inability to step up in the manner that he has in the past has allowed more guys like Charl Schwartzel to “prove” that they have the chops, but what are the chances we see Schwartzel falling into the category of the Ben Curtis’ and Rich Beem’s of the world?

Rory McElroy needed nothing more than a half-decent round on Sunday to truly solidify his status as one of the PGA’s elite. The career defining win that has eluded the likes of Lee Westwood would have been a huge confidence booster for the 21-year-old McIlroy.

Maybe he just doesn’t have it in him. That’s not to say that he won’t ever win a major but with Gary Busey on the Celebrity Apprentice showing more mental stability than McIlroy it seems unlikely that this young talent will be anything more than a perennial underachiever.

With the amount of talent that this young man possesses it would be a shame to see it go to waste. In his short career Rory McElroy has shown nothing that should lead us to believe that he will be the next great thing in golf and it would appear as though he is going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat if he wants to win a major anytime soon.

Agree? Disagree? If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, please feel free to reply in the comments section below. Or you can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com. You can also follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favor.

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And in this Corner, the Challenger is…

(Left to right) None of Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington, nor Vijay Singh have been able to challenge Tiger on a consistent basis

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.

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