One Slip And Tiger Has You

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His game has changed, there is no question about it. So has the glitz factor ' he doesnt win by just bombing the daylights out of the field anymore.
 
But the results are just like the Woods of old ' time after time after time, just like a monotonous alarm clock that keeps pestering you when you try to sleep, he is the only one left standing when it comes time to pass out the hardware.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods improved to 8-1 in playoffs following his win at Harding Park.
He doesnt just obliterate fields like he used to, a la 1999-2001. Tiger Woods has learned something much more important ' how to win when you dont play at your maximum. For the sixth time this year, he won on Sunday. And for the fourth time this year, he may not have been the best player on the course.
 
But ' he was the best thinker on the course. And, for sure, he was the most patient.
 
Tiger just hangs around and hangs around, always managing to get himself in position should anyone fail on Sunday. You think this doesnt make him a great player? What does six wins in one season make him, six wins when he probably should have won only at Doral and at the British Open? Once again at the AmEx, he was waiting, patiently, for somebody to fumble the ball. And when John Daly missed the two-footer, sure enough, Woods was standing there, ready to fair-catch the tournament victory.
 
Remember his first win at San Diego this year, when he started his 31-hole trek on Sunday with three straight bogeys? Remember how hit the 2-iron at 18 so poorly that it squirted out to the right, but onto a narrow peninsula in front of the green? And remember the 18-foot putt that slammed the door on the deal, sending Charles Howell, Tom Lehman and Luke Donald away losers?
 
'I didn't know whether to laugh or cry,' Howell said. 'Obviously, it's a crazy game.'
 
'He whipped the field playing lousy,' Lehman said. 'I give him a lot of credit.'
 
And Tiger didnt deny anything. I didn't play it my best - there's no doubt about that, he said. I felt good enough where my mechanics were sound enough now that I could place my misses. That's the difference, is I can place my misses.
 
He hooked up with Phil Mickelson at Doral and just flat out-played him. Ditto the British Open, where he wasnt in any danger of losing the lead once he gained it. But the Masters was very tense with Tiger making bogeys at the 71st and 72nd holes, then hitting two perfect shots and sinking a clutch putt at the 18th to win in a playoff. He played well at the WCG-NEC, but he never could nail down the win until he made a 17-foot birdie putt at No. 16 to subdue a stubborn Chris DiMarco.
 
And then there was the win Sunday. Obviously you saw I didn't really have any best stuff this week, Tiger said, but I still hung in there with my mind and putted beautifully and hit good shots when I really had to.
 
Its easy to get blas about it, to wonder how Woods gets so lucky sometimes. But six wins in one year isnt luck. He has deserved every one of them, just like he used to deserve every one of the wins back when he was winning eight, nine times a year. Tiger this year is, once again, easily the best player on the planet.
 
What gives? What happens to him when he sees players ahead of him?
 
It's not that complicated, I guess, Woods says, trying once again to low-key it.
 
Maybe it's just because I feel like I focus more. I try and make the same mental approach going into each and every shot. But for some reason when it really matters, I seem to hit higher golf shots. I don't know why. but it seems like I've hit some of my best golf shots when I've been struggling and needed to turn it around.
 
Of course, much of this is a perception problem. We tend to think about today only, about this hole only, instead of considering what hes done over the entire year. We forget sometimes that he plays only in the best tournaments, with the exception of an occasional Disney near his home.
 
Two of his wins this year came in majors, another two came in World Championship of Golf events. Those are tournaments where just about the best players in golf are competing. Woods rarely plays in lesser events ' much to the chagrin of those he snubs. How many more wins would he have if he played, say, 28 events a year as opposed to just 20? Ten more? Obviously, its not all about the number of wins ' its the quality of the wins.
 
And the guys who play against him know that mentality, even though the shots sometimes aren't quite as precise as they once were. Tiger may occasionally hit it offline, but he never thinks 'offline'. He may lose, but when he does, it's because he just hasn't executed the shot that he envisioned.
 
You know, he's a champion, said a somber Daly, and he's won so many golf tournaments. I was probably feeling a lit bit more heat than he was.
 
And he was right. Sunday was classic Woods golf. He hit a few remarkable shots, hit a few indifferent shots. But he was always around, always just waiting, waiting, waiting. And when Daly gave him a crack, it was all he needed. Daly was feeling more heat. Tiger was feeling more confidence. Thats all it took for No. 6.
 
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