Only a Matter of Time for Tiger Woods

Tiger Woods fell short yet again.

Another rather atrocious Sunday at a major championship leaves Tiger stuck on 14 majors. He’s still 4 away from Jack but one has to wonder if he will ever win another major. He hasn’t been able to put together 4 solid, consecutive rounds in a major since his return from rock bottom. At this point, Tiger is about as dominant as Adam Scott is. In other words, that’s not very good.

However, the golfer formerly known as Eldrick is far from done.

It’s no secret that Woods is putting his game back together. Aside from his missed cut at the Greenbrier, Tiger has been in contention in most every tournament he has played in recently. He has won 3 tournaments this year. He came back from his disappointing Masters in April with strong major performances at the U.S. and British Open.

More importantly though, he seems to have accepted the fact that he isn’t the Tiger Woods of old. In stark contrast to his noticeable anger following the 2010 Masters, Woods could be seen smiling after his disappointing final round yesterday. He undoubtedly wasn’t content with his play on the course Sunday but Tiger gave the impression that he could take solace in a relatively good overall performance.

Despite being behind numerous strokes on Sunday, Tiger stubbornly and illogically refused to pull the driver out of his bag, only to use it when it was too late. Call it a lack of confidence, call it a refusal to stray from his game plan, call it whatever you want. The way I see it, the new, older, Tiger Woods understands that he can’t simply go out and play so freely the way he used to.

The Tiger Woods of 2 years ago wouldn’t have been able to comprehend that.

Like everyone else, he realizes that at age 36 he can’t dominate the field in the manner that he used to. His ego has been healed enough to the point where he can finally come to terms with his inability to be prime time Tiger. Other than his Spock evil twin-like goatee, Tiger Woods once again looks to be happier. He is enjoying the game of golf.

It won’t be too long before Tiger Woods wins his 15th major. This Tiger’s head is finally getting screwed on straight. He is contending at Majors. The pieces of his shattered ego are slowly being put back together, each and every week. It’s all steps in the right direction.

Forget the Tiger Woods of yesteryear. He is long gone and isn’t coming back.

Expectations of Tiger have to be lowered. Immediate gratification be damned. The major will come. He is getting closer.

18 total majors. Well, that’s another story. It is ridiculous to guarantee Tiger Woods 18 majors as of this moment but it would be just as ridiculous to write him off completely. He hasn’t won a major in 2012 but it has been a solid comeback season.

The magnitude of his epic collapse was a 9.0 on the Richter scale. As we have seen, that isn’t something that gets fixed overnight. It’s a process. Tiger Woods is still in the middle of that process. He is no longer clearing the rubble of his damaged self but is on to building the foundation to a new person, a new Tiger.

A 73 to put him out of contention on Sunday at the British Open shouldn’t tell you that Tiger doesn’t have it in him anymore to win major championships. It should tell you that he played 3 more good rounds at a big tournament. It should tell you that the consistency is coming back. It should tell you that he’s close to regaining the title of major champion. A title that he so desperately covets.

At 42 years old, Ernie Els won his 4th major. There is no rush for Tiger. He has plenty of time left to win a few more majors, let alone 1. He is too good. He is due.

If Tiger doesn’t win at the PGA Championship in August then he will be closing in on 5 years since winning his last major by the time the Masters rolls around next year.

Don’t fret though, because it’s only a matter of time.

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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.

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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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