You also had to believe that, even as Chris DiMarco a couple of times crept to within one shot of him, Woods always had something extra to call upon. When he gouges out a lead, you just dont catch him. His competitors get close ' tantalizingly close sometimes ' but no one can ever get over that massive hump when he is clinging to the top rung.
Last year it was Colin Montgomerie at this tournament. Yes, he got within a shot of tying Tiger the last day. This year it was DiMarco. But both times, Woods just kept adding to the pressure, twisting the noose little by little, until finally he had snuffed the life out of all his competitors.
Sunday he shot the quietest 67 Ive ever seen. There really was no brilliant flashpoint, no one moment that would stand out as the focal point of this tournament, no 200-yard holeouts or 50-foot putts. But it was a masterpiece of a man doing whatever he had to do to stay out front. If he had been required to sink a 50-footer to keep that lead, I dont doubt for a second that he would have done it. If he had to hole out from 200 yards again, he probably would have done it, too.
Have you ever seen a bully pilfer a kids cap and hold it just barely out of the kids frantic lunges? Thats Woods and DiMarco all over again, the Masters in 2005, the British Open in 2006. Remember the 99 PGA when he held off Sergio Garcia? The 2001 Masters when he did it to David Duval? The 2002 Masters when Retief Goosen was the foil? Never has the tour seen such a bulldog as when Tiger gets a nose in front. Hes absolutely tenacious.
It happened again last week. Ernie Els on Friday kept Woods from running away. On Saturday it was Garcia ' and Tigers own three-putts. And on Sunday it was a brilliant round by DiMarco. But throughout, I know there wasnt one chance in a hundred that anyone else was going to win. Oh, if a quirk had happened and Tigers ball took an unlucky bounce into one of those bunkers yes, then the unlikely might have happened. But Tiger Woods isnt going to let ANYONE beat him straight up when he gets the lead in a major.
What is it about him that causes him to change to fifth gear on such occasions?
I don't intend to do it on purpose; that's not one of those things where I can turn on the switch, said Tiger, who obviously doesnt understand it fully, either. It just takes an awfully lot of intestinal fortitude when someone rushes up beside you and looks you in the eye, and you have the wherewithal to switch gears and pull back ahead.
I believe in the way I play golf, that you turn the switch on the first hole and you have it on the entire time, he said. And you don't try any harder on each and every shot. You have the same effort level, you give it everything you have on every shot.
But champions reach a new plateau in situations like this. And like Woods said, he certainly doesnt do it consciously. He puts forth the same effort from the first hole to the 72nd. But when conditions state that he must find another level or else go down to defeat, Tiger has been able to find that other level ' witness the three straight birdies that he was able to make after DiMarco crept up Sunday.
For some reason, in my past I've seemed to pull things off at the end, he says, and I think that's just due to I feel comfortable being there. I've been there enough times. I've had enough success that I feel comfortable being in that situation.
Tiger tries to explain it by saying it is simply the experience of being there enough times. He feels a certain calmness when hes faced with someone whose about to wrest away the championship, and he can thus slip it into overdrive. But that isnt it, most assuredly. You can see it visibly in his face and in his posture ' and that look certainly isnt calmness. He looks very stressed ' but when he has that look of being stressed out, then you know that hes about to do something thats going to win the tournament.
He's got an uncanny ability to, when somebody gets close to him, to just turn it up another level, said DiMarco.
It's just - it's hard to catch him. And you've got to give it your all. Obviously you've got to go out there and do it.
DiMarco had said Saturday that he was going to have to climb a high mountain if he ' or anyone else ' was going to win. Stats don't lie, he said firmly. Obviously he's a pretty good front-runner the guy has a knack for winning, so it's going to be tough to beat him tomorrow.
DiMarco indeed played a beautiful round of golf, shooting a 68 under the greatest pressure imaginable. But there was always this sneaking suspicion that if Tiger had to shoot a 67, he would shoot a 67. If he had to shoot a 65, he would shoot a 65. And if he had to somehow figure out a way to shoot 63, then somehow he would do that.
He's the best, said Nick Faldo, who himself was the best for about 10 years. He's mentally the toughest. He's the most trained for what you have to put up with. He plays from the first tee with The Tiger Show for 72 holes. All of a sudden the guys who play with him tomorrow (Sunday) are going to get out there with 60 cameramen and it will be a different world for them, and he is in the same mode all the time.
That's what the great champions of any sport have; Bjorn Borg and others have been able to do this. They are in the same mode from the moment they walk out until the moment they finish.
Tiger has lost plenty of majors, even missed the cut this year in the U.S. Open. But he never, ever gets beat in a two-man horse race. Simply said, he always wins when he sees the barn in a major.
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