Is Tigers Intimidation Factor Overblown

RSS

PGA Tour (75x100)MIAMI -- Tiger Woods has played only 17 rounds this year and already has three victories, a sign that his mystique is returning after a three-year absence.
 
But with that comes an inflated belief that Woods only wins because everyone wilts.
 
There is plenty of evidence, of course, the latest example coming Sunday at Doral when former PGA champion David Toms had his only three-putt of the week on the final hole. That allowed Woods, who was watching from the fairway, to play away from the water with a 9-iron and win with a bogey.
 
And dont forget what happened 11 times zone apart in consecutive weeks.
 
Two-time Masters champion Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot par putt to lose on the second playoff hole at Torrey Pines. The next week, three-time major winner Ernie Els hit a 4-iron that came up a yard short and into the water to lose a playoff to Woods in Dubai.
 
But to suggest that even steely major champions suffocate in Woods presence is to deny Woods proper credit for being perhaps the greatest closer golf has ever seen.
 
I look at this way'I put myself there, Woods said after winning Doral. So if I put myself there enough times, those things are going to happen, as well as other guys are going to make birdies to beat me. Thats the way it goes. As long as Im there ... its not a bad place to be.
 
He has played well enough to take a two-shot lead into the final round 20 times on the PGA Tour and never lost. He has had at least a share of the 54-hole lead 37 times on tour, and has lost only three times'to Retief Goosen, Phil Mickelson and the ultimate trivia answer, Ed Fiori.
 
Runner-up finishes are rare.
 
Everyone is keeping score as Woods tries to break Jack Nicklaus benchmark of 18 professional majors. What might be tougher for Woods to surpass is another Nicklaus standard -- 19 times a runner-up in the majors.
 
Nicklaus finished second a lot, a testament to his greatness.
 
Woods finishes second far fewer times, which speaks just as much if not more'to his will to win.
 
In their first 10 years on the PGA Tour, Nicklaus and Woods either won or finished second about one-third of the time. The difference is Woods won 48 tournaments and has been runner-up 19 times; Nicklaus won 38 tournaments and was runner-up 30 times.
 
Woods can be an intimidating presence, no doubt.
 
Still, some people make it sound as though Toms was standing on the 18th green at Doral when he looked over his shoulder at Woods in the fairway and started shaking.
 
Toms had a 4-iron from the rough with a pin cut over the water to the left. His only choice without doing anything stupid was to play to the fat part of the green and take his chances. He was left with a 60-foot putt that, once it starts to break, goes swiftly with the grain toward the water. The best he could have done, without the hole getting in the way, was to leave it about 4 feet below the cup. His putt slid 10 feet by and he missed it.
 
Toms made only five bogeys all week. Three came at the 18th hole, a monster for everyone but the Herculean hitters on tour. Par was no small task in the final round, when the average score was 4.5.
 
Woods caught a decent lie in the rough and had 170 yards to the hole. Odds were that if Toms made his par putt, Woods hits his 9-iron to the middle of the green and makes par.
 
Thats what he does'whatever it takes to win.
 
Whenever someone makes a mistake, it is too quickly written off as the Tiger factor.
 
If Els was so spooked by Woods in a playoff at Dubai, how to explain what happened to Woods on the same course four years ago? He was tied with Thomas Bjorn going to the par-5 18th, hit into the water and made double bogey to lose by two shots.
 
Few players are more crafty with a wedge than Olazabal, and his bunker shot on the 16th hole in the playoff at Torrey Pines was scary good. Trouble was, he left himself 4 feet straight down the hill and breaking sharply to the left on greens that will never be mistaken for what one might find in Phoenix.
 
Davis Love III used to take a beating for folding whenever Woods was atop the leaderboard. What rarely gets mentioned is that Love has never had the lead, or even been tied with Woods, going into the final round.
 
Perhaps his best chance was in the final of the Match Play Championship two years ago, when Love failed to convert several good birdie chances that let Woods off the hook. Was that the Tiger factor? That might have been more a product of Love, for he did the same thing this year at La Costa losing to Geoff Ogilvy.
 
Woods is a great closer because he rarely makes mistakes. And even when he stumbles'he fell flat on his face at Augusta National last year with back-to-back bogeys to fall into a playoff -- he usually recovers.
 
It was at the Masters in 2002 when all the stars'Els, Mickelson, Goosen, Vijay Singh'made one mistake after another in a hopeless attempt to catch him.
 
When other guys are up there, you know that if you can just stay around, theres a good chance they might come back two or three shots, Mickelson said that day. But Tiger doesnt ever seem to do that. You know you have to make birdies to catch him.
 
Woods average score in the final round when he wins is 68.6. Only five times has he won despite shooting over par in the final round, all but one of those occasions a major or World Golf Championship.
 
The mystique is returning not because his competition is folding.
 
Its because Woods is winning.
 
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.