That is the popular mindset. Unfortunately, that is not reality. Major championships are built on tons of work. Woods is the best player to pull on spikes. But he is the best at least partially because he is the best worker. He is the best because he has a wonderful grind-it-out mentality, not because he overwhelms the opposition with natural talent. If he didnt have this mindset, he wouldnt be winning these soirees with such regularity.
He wins the Masters this year on a Sunday when everyone falls to pieces but him. Do you think there was a reason? He wins the U.S. Open with a gritty four-day gut-check, staying upright until the end to stave off Phil Mickelson. Others say the blokes were inferior that he beat back. The truth is that the course was brutally tough, the competition was hardened as well , but Tiger was just tougher.
He won one major by 15 shots, another by 12, yet another by eight. But the other four majors were won by a playoff (against Bob May), by a single stroke over Sergio Garcia, and the two afore-mentioned tooth-pullers this year. Tiger is winning, but it has been richly earned. Much more often than not, major championships have to be earned.
I dont think people actually understand how difficult this sport is, he says. And he is partly to blame because of those three laughers. But if he catches Nicklaus and wins 18, he will have to do it the old-fashioned way. Mickelson has gotten too good. Garcia has gotten too good. The young guys who are just now coming up are too good.
This sport is very difficult, Tiger said Sunday. And its very fickle. You can play well and you can lose. Thats the nature of this sport. You get some breaks that are bad, things just dont happen your way Ive played well and not won, the other guy hasnt played well and beaten me for some reason.
Just because Im playing well doesnt guarantee Im going to win a tournament.
Which is the long way of saying, it all aint that easy, folks. Tiger is winning majors at an incredible clip because he is the best golfer in the world. But he isnt light-years ahead. He will be the best golfer in the world, quite possibly the best the world has ever seen, for years to come. But the competition is far too good to let him just walk away with his majors.
The post-match questions showed how far from reality the perceptions are:
Are you amazed by the lack of serious opposition today, and how do you explain that?
TIGER: What were you watching? Phil played great.
Still, no one got to you.
TIGER: Theres only going to be one winner. But Phil played just an absolutely fantastic round of golf. He just made a couple of mistakes at the end You make one mistake here and there, youre paying a price. And Phil made a mistake at the end ' and so did I.
Cynics are probably jabbing each other in the ribs and snickering, but Woods is dead-on correct. This U.S. Open did not, contrary to popular opinion, come easily. He got the lead the first day and hung on like an angry pit bull, but you arent going to shake these guys until the final nine holes. Tiger appeared to be in control the entire way, but it never looked easy. He hung in there, and when it was over, he had a huge amount of intestinal fortitude and just enough swings. He had enough of both to pull off major No. 8.
Mickelson realizes the enormity of his task. He and his brethren must do whatever it is to make Tiger beatable. Reteif Goosen did it last year. So did David Duval. And David Toms. The task is still awesome, but maybe not quite as awesome for everyone else as it once seemed.
Its difficult to compete with a player of Tigers caliber, but Ive been able to do it the last year or two, said Mickelson. I have to raise that (his level of play), to win tournaments with Tiger in the field. Im starting to realize that, and Im continuing to work harder in all areas of my game.
Garcia realizes the awesome task each time a major comes around. But he realizes what he is seeing ' possibly the best player ever to swing a golf club.
I tell you one thing, it doesnt get much better this, said Garcia. Hes unbelievable, and hes just ' hes able to do whatever it takes. If hes leading by four or five, he doesnt pull too hard because he doesnt need to. If he needs to play a little harder, he does.
Still, Garcia realizes Woods is made up of flesh and bone, not metal and electrical circuits. Hes still human, Garcia said. As it has developed, hes just a very good human.
Nick Faldo chucked when he was asked about Tigers chances at Muirfield, the site in Scotland where the next major will be played. Hell struggle all the way, said Faldo, obviously enjoying the joke he had made.
Thats the toughest thing the guys have ' when Tiger has had enough, when hes decided he has made the records he wants to make but I have a sneaking feeling hes going to keep that inner strength for 10 more years, at least.
Who knows what the next 10 years will bring? Tiger may actually be No. 2 ' a far-fetched dream, but certainly possible. More likely, he will catch Nicklaus record of 18 majors in the next 10 years.
But it wont be nearly as easy as a lot of people think. His head is as strong as his hands, though, and together, those two will be too much for most of golfdom. It will be done. But it wont be done easily.