SAN FRANCISCO – Consider it golf’s version of Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness Monster.
It’s called the Tiger Intimidation Factor and its existence is all based on whom you choose to believe.
There are some who claim they’ve witnessed this phenomenon with their own eyes, elite professional golfers seemingly curling up into the fetal position when Tiger Woods is amongst them in contention for a tournament title. Many others think this is pure myth, a figment of the imagination whose legend only grows over time.
If the Tiger Intimidation Factor truly does exist, then it most likely occurs at major championships, during the weekend rounds when Woods is making yet another bid toward immortality in his career-long quest to capture the all-time major victory record.
Of course, even if there is such a thing, some players are simply immune to it. Perhaps it’s akin to looking in the wrong direction when Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness Monster springs from the wilderness, but for the chosen few it never rears its ugly head.
These men come in all shapes and sizes, carrying varied forms of resume credentials. From Bob May to Chris DiMarco to Rocco Mediate to Y.E. Yang, even those who couldn’t defeat Woods in their major championship matchup didn’t fall victim to the Tiger Intimidation Factor.
Entering the third round of the 112th U.S. Open with Woods in a share of the lead, there was a prevailing feeling that the 14-time major champion may be on the precipice of turning the final 36 holes into his own private coronation. Instead, he posted a score of 5-over 75 to fall into a share of 14th place.
While it can be correctly stated that few were intimidated by his initial presence on the leaderboard, none thrived in the situation as much as McDowell and Furyk, who carded rounds of 68 and 70, respectively, to claim a share of the lead entering the final round – the only two players under par through 54 holes.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. McDowell has stood toe-to-toe with Tiger before, holing a lengthy putt on the final hole of the Chevron World Challenge to force a playoff with the tournament host, then another to win minutes later. Furyk, meanwhile, is a longtime friend of Woods and past Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup partner, a familiarity he parlayed into a five-shot differential in the final pairing with him on Saturday at The Olympic Club.
“You can really get caught up in playing with him just from the amount of media, from the amount of attention, cameras,” Furyk explained. “He had to lay it up on 1 and the crowd is yelling, ‘Take advantage of it, Jimmy. Try to get ahead of him.’ And you have to realize that you're not playing Tiger Woods today. I was playing against the golf course, trying to fire a number.
“I tried today not to worry about his game or how he was playing. I didn't watch him make a lot of swings.”
McDowell was equally passionate in not getting caught up with trying to keep up with Woods, but instead playing his own game and realizing there was a large group of potential champions amongst the contenders.
“You know, I look at the leaderboard and I see Tiger's name, but I see other great names there, as well,” he said. “Lee Westwood and David Toms and guys who know how to get the job done. It's fairly crowded. … I'm sure Tiger believes he has a chance going out tomorrow as do other players.”
What a difference 24 hours makes.
Prior to the third round, Woods’ name lurked on the leaderboard as the one to watch, the Tiger Intimidation Factor – whether real or imagined – ready to pounce on unsuspecting contenders.
Instead, much like Bigfoot or the Abominable Snowman or the Loch Ness Monster, any glimpse of it was shrouded by insufficient evidence of its existence.
In the gloaming of Saturday evening, it was McDowell and Furyk who emanated from the clubhouse, exchanged handshakes and similar greetings of, “Nice playing, see you tomorrow.” Neither will be intimidated by the other, nor will they be intimidated by anyone else, either.