The following sounds like something whipped up by Aesop, who was sort of like the Johnny Miller of ancient Greek storytellers.
There exists a tiger who wins everything. When he is supposed to win, he wins. When he isn’t supposed to win, he still wins. He wins everything, it seems, except for those things he most wants to win. It is these crowns which leave him stymied, his pursuit of personal greatness stifled by the weight of his own expectations.
Like all fables, there is a lesson in this tale. Perhaps the tiger represents unrealistic possibilities. Or maybe it preaches how life should be about the journey instead of the destination.
Or hell, maybe it’s just a thinly veiled story about how Tiger Woods doesn’t win major championships anymore.
The winner of 14 career major titles, Woods’ odometer has been stuck on 14 ever since claiming the 2008 U.S. Open in a Monday playoff on June 16 of that year. Those into symbolism and numerology should note that the final round of this year’s U.S. Open will conclude on June 16, exactly five years to the day of his last major triumph.
Since then, he has endured the lows of the game – going winless during the 2010 and ’11 seasons – and enjoyed certain highs – seven victories in his last 22 PGA Tour starts – without once again reaching what he considers to be the pinnacle of golf.
And so the aftermath of Woods’ most recent accomplishment, a second career Players Championship win, is tinged not with reflection but with foreshadowing toward his next opportunity to claim a major title.
The tiger whose pursuit of personal greatness has been stifled by the weight of his own expectations can easily be interpreted as Tiger, whose pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’ all-time major championship record began when his expectations were born as a child, long days at the golf course followed by long nights staring at the poster of his target adorning those bedroom walls.
Just ask Miller himself, the modern day Aesop.
“The only thing that’s going to hold him back is trying to get Jack’s record,” the ever-opinionated commentator explained. “I think he’s trying a little too hard at the majors. He’s got to somehow say, ‘OK, it’s going to happen,’ and just sit back and play smart.”
If you’re wondering how Merion Golf Club will suit Woods’ game, congratulations: The two of you have something in common. Professional golf’s ultimate been-there, done-that case study hasn’t been there and hasn’t done that. His next trip to the upcoming U.S. Open venue will be his first one.
If you’d like to understand how the course will play next month, try this simple experiment: Tee up a ball in the street in front of your home; hit it so straight that it doesn’t land in a neighbor’s yard; then try to stop an iron shot on the pavement; and lastly, roll a putt across that slick surface, attempting to make it drop into a hole exactly 4.25 inches in diameter.
Oh, and throw in thousands of expectant fans and some intense pressure for good measure.
Of course, when it comes to Woods, it may not matter.
The USGA could contest its annual grindfest at Nullarbor Links, a 1,365-kilometer course in Australia that bills itself as the world’s longest golf course – and doesn’t get much argument. Or it could take the tournament to Jim Bob’s Pitch-N-Putt, where you leave a fiver in the wooden box on the first tee and hope you don’t get paired up with Grandma Mulligan, who uses a 3-wood on the 67-yard opening hole.
Either way, Woods would still be the prohibitive favorite and the course would still suit his game more than that of anyone else in the field.
That’s what happens when you’re the No. 1 player in the world. What happens when you’ve won four times in seven starts. What happens when you’ve earned more than double the amount of world ranking points than the next-successful player this year. What happens when you lead all putting statistics by a mile. What happens when your par-5 birdie or better percentage exceeds that of every season other than the three-major campaign of 2000.
Then again, there are no guarantees in life and no guarantees in golf. Woods won not long before each of the first three majors of last year. Then he proceeded to lose each of them. He won in his final start before last month’s Masters. And of course, he failed to win that one.
The tiger continues to win everything – everything, it seems, except for those things he most wants to win. Like all fables, there’s a lesson in here somewhere.