Whos Afraid of Tiger Woods

By Mercer BaggsFebruary 5, 2006, 5:00 pm
Tiger Woods apparently is looking to pay off his new $38 million mortgage in full this year ' from his 2006 earnings alone. In just two starts, hes already pocketed over $1.3 million in winnings, and reportedly received around $3 million just for showing up in Dubai.
Woods commands what would seem an exorbitant amount of money just to fly over and play tournaments outside of the PGA Tour. But the sponsors are willing to put forth said money so it must be beneficial to have him around.
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to his playoff victory over Ernie Els in Dubai.
These tournaments, like Dubai and the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan and the HSBC Champions event in China, know that when they procure a Woods appearance that theyre going to get at least two things for their money: increased ticket sales and Tigers best effort.
People will always pay to watch Tiger compete, and theyll always get their moneys worth.
Regardless of where he plays or when he plays, Woods wants to win. Period.
Funny thing is, is that Woods hasnt seemed to overly enjoy he last three victories, all of which have come in playoffs, and all of which have ultimately come courtesy of others mistakes.
At least, thats the impression you would get by watching Tigers initial reaction to each win.
When John Daly missed a 3-foot putt to hand Tiger last years WGC-American Express title, Woods appeared almost embarrassed that anothers failure had resulted in his success
When Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot putt to give Tiger this years Buick Invitational title, he was apologetic in victory, telling Ollie that he was sorry to have won that way.
And when Ernie Els butchered the first hole of sudden death this past week in Dubai, Woods was the one who looked like he had just made bogey when he tapped in for victory.
Each time, however, these emotions were re-directed 180 degrees immediately after hugging his caddie. Thats when the smiles and laughs came out -- and a little bit of truth.
Truth is: Tiger must really enjoy this. Certainly, he would rather win a tournament than to have someone else lose it, but there must be a great deal of satisfaction and self-empowerment to know that others are crumbling in your presence.
Makes one wonder if there is a fear factor in relation to Tiger Woods?
If so, its certainly not the same as it was some five, six years ago. But there still seems to be something there.
Players might not fear Tiger off the first tee on Thursday (unless its the British Open at St. Andrews). But if faced with him head-to-head on Sunday then it is Advantage Tiger in the psychological department (he's a career 13-1 in playoffs as a professional).
Fear might not be the appropriate word any more. Perhaps its more like anxiety.
When matched against Woods in a match-play situation, a player might feel the pressure of needing perfection. Believing that Woods will not make a mistake might force others to do just that.
Having never played Tiger head-to-head -- with the exception of on his video game, in which I punish him regularly -- I have no idea exactly what this feels like. I can only imagine and play pop psychologist, and try and make sense of what Ive seen when others have been in that situation.
Daly rushing and then lipping out a short par putt could happen on any hole in any round ' not just in a playoff against Woods. After all, he also drove his tee shot into the water on the first hole of sudden death against Vijay Singh in last years Shell Houston Open.
Olazabals hiccup at Torrey Pines wasnt an aberration. He missed a couple of similar putts when he had multiple chances to win last years BellSouth Classic in a playoff, which featured, among others, Phil Mickelson.
And give Woods some credit: he shot 3-under 67 on Sunday in San Francisco to force sudden death with Daly, parring a very difficult final hole to do so; he made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at the Buick to get into a playoff with Olazabal and Nathan Green; and he birdied each of his final two holes this Sunday to force overtime with Els.
Els meltdown is a little more difficult to explain than the previous two. Hes a three-time winner of the Dubai Desert Classic and has shown before (like at the 2003 Presidents Cup) that he can handle a one-on-one situation with Woods.
He hadnt made a bogey all day in the final round, and had even birdied the 18th hole to force Woods to do the same just to get into a playoff.
In fact, Els had played the hole in 5 under for the week ' the same as he did a year ago, when he eagled the par-5 finishing hole to win the tournament by one.
And yet this time, he pulls his tee shot, pushes his second into the water ' while trying to navigate his ball underneath some tree limbs, and makes bogey.
Head-scratching stuff.
Was it due to fear? Not likely. Anxiety? Maybe. Plain and simple poor execution? Could very well be.
Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: if someone doesnt stand up to Tiger soon ' before he really gets his game clicking, he might even be able to pay the taxes on his new home.
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Dubai Desert Classic
  • Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

    Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

    By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

    Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

    The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

    "The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

    He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

    Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

    Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

    “Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

    Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

    Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

    Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

    The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

    Getty Images

    McIlroy gets back on track

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

    There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

    He is well ahead of schedule.

    Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

    “Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

    To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

    And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

    Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

    “I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

    The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

    The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

    But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

    Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

    Everything in his life is lined up.

    Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

    Getty Images

    Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

    Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

    Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

    There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

    Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

    Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

    The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

    Getty Images

    Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

    By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

    Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

    Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

    It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

    While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.