Death Taxes and Tigers Putter

By George WhiteJanuary 31, 2006, 5:00 pm
So, Tiger just goes out and grabs another title. Hangs around on Sunday, doesnt wow anybody with his shot-making, but never lets the leaders get out of his sight. Its definitely not his A game, maybe not even his B game, but its definitely his A game mentally.
In fact, thats probably the difference in Tiger Woods and the rest of the tour. Of course, he has the most complete game in the sport of golf. But he cant play at his optimum every week, and thats just a given fact. Golf just isnt a sport that you can master every week. But Woods has the strongest mind in golf, and that is a part of the game in which he has no peers.
Tiger Woods
Tiger has no peer when it comes to mental toughness on the course.
When it came time to putt an 8-footer on the 72nd hole that would allow him to get in a playoff, it of course went dead-center into the hole. I cant remember the last time he missed a putt on the final hole that he absolutely had to make. He might miss them on the sixth hole, on the 21st hole, on the 61st hole or on the 71st hole. But he is the best in the game at knocking down the putt ' be it from three feet or six feet or 10 feet' when he has to make an absolutely crucial one.
That's one thing that Tiger is good at, said Sergio Garcia. Even when his game is not spot-on, you know that he can get in the hole and that he can get around.
Im not going to go back and look up the particlars on all 47 of his victories, but it seems that most of his wins the last five years came just this way. There was a time in 1999, 2000 and halfway though 2001 that he just blew everyone off the map. But since then, he really hasnt needed to. Hes gotten so smart, and his skills are so accomplished, that he can just sit back and wait for the other guys to detonate.
Last year at this tournament he was down by two strokes to Luke Donald with only five holes to play ' only to win in regulation. Remember John Daly in the playoff at American Express last year? He gagged on a short one in a playoff, and you-know-who was a very apologetic winner. Remember Chris DiMarco in the Masters? He didnt get Woods put away when he had the chance, and eventually Tiger hit two superb shots to steal it. At Doral, he and Phil Mickelson both played brilliantly, but Tiger had to make a 6-footer at the last to seal it. And, of course, he did.
Which brings to mind the prime A No. 1 example - the playoff against Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship. With May playing a brilliant round of golf, Woods stood on the 72nd hole and, just like Sunday, had an 8-footer that he surely, absolutely had to made. The look on his face as he lined it up was sheer terror, as it usually is. But when he stroked it, the putt homed in on the target and never wavered. Bingo!
Last week was so typically Tiger. All day Sunday he was just one of a number of guys hanging around the lead. And on 18 in regulation, he stood over the first putt 73 feet from the hole. This was where he might fail and three-putt ' ANYONE might three-putt. And sure enough, he gassed the first putt to what looked at first like about 12-15 past the hole.
But it was just an optical illusion, one of the tricks of TV. Actually Tiger had only eight feet to the hole, well within his 'make it' range. And I dont care if the greens were bumpy or how much of a break he had, Woods was going to dunk it ' because he absolutely had to.
And he did. And two holes later, when Jose Marie Olazabal had a 3-4 footer that he absolutely had to make ' even though it was over a nasty break and he had the same bumpy greens ' he missed it.
The miss was absolutely understandable, even by a person like Ollie who is regarded as one of the best putters in the game. But you can bet your life and your soul that, had Tiger faced the same critical putt and in the same situation, he would have somehow made it.
Quite frankly, I probably shouldnt have even in the playoff, said Tiger, parroting the same theme he has spoken for so many victories the last three or four years. It seems rather strange, but Tiger sounds very optimistic during tournaments where he struggles to find something - but very apologetic oftentimes when he wins. His brethren from the tour probably would rather not hear him poor-mouthing his game so frequently. They undoubtedly liked it a lot more when he was whistling in the dark two years ago, when he failed to win a stroke-play tournament.
But Woods has been around the lead too many times the last year to believe that he isnt hitting some awesome shots. In fact, though he may not be playing at the same irreproachable level as he was five or six years ago, he is far and away the class of mens golf. And that putt on the 72nd hole showed exactly why.
I kept saying, At least you have a chance, he said. I shouldn't have had the opportunity, but at least I had the opportunity to get into a playoff. I made it into a putting situation, and I said, This putt doesn't break as much as it looks. Make sure you put it half in and half out and try and bury it.
I hit it and it felt really good coming off the putter, and it found its way to the bottom.
Of course, Woods tries just as hard on all his putts. But something just locks in when its do-or-die time. He might yip occasionally from 2 or 3 feet, but never when it means a win or a loss ' which is probably the reason why his record in playoffs is now 9-1.
Oh, it's fun. It is fun, said Tiger. You either win or lose right here and now. It's match play, but you only get one chance. You can't make up any ground. It's either you get it done or you don't.

And he repeatedly gets it done, more than anyone has in history. Jack Nicklaus, as great a champion as he was, was only 14-11 in playoffs. Arnold Palmer was only 14-10. Ben Hogan was only 6-12, Greg Norman 4-8, Gary Player 3-8.
Tiger has won nine out of 10 now. His only playoff loss was in 1998, to Billy Mayfair. Whether you like him or despise him, youve got to concede: give him a putt he HAS to make to stay alive, and Tiger Woods will bury it.
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