Whos Afraid of Tiger Woods

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Tiger Woods apparently is looking to pay off his new $38 million mortgage in full this year ' from his 2006 earnings alone. In just two starts, hes already pocketed over $1.3 million in winnings, and reportedly received around $3 million just for showing up in Dubai.
 
Woods commands what would seem an exorbitant amount of money just to fly over and play tournaments outside of the PGA Tour. But the sponsors are willing to put forth said money so it must be beneficial to have him around.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods reacts to his playoff victory over Ernie Els in Dubai.
These tournaments, like Dubai and the Dunlop Phoenix Open in Japan and the HSBC Champions event in China, know that when they procure a Woods appearance that theyre going to get at least two things for their money: increased ticket sales and Tigers best effort.
 
People will always pay to watch Tiger compete, and theyll always get their moneys worth.
 
Regardless of where he plays or when he plays, Woods wants to win. Period.
 
Funny thing is, is that Woods hasnt seemed to overly enjoy he last three victories, all of which have come in playoffs, and all of which have ultimately come courtesy of others mistakes.
 
At least, thats the impression you would get by watching Tigers initial reaction to each win.
 
When John Daly missed a 3-foot putt to hand Tiger last years WGC-American Express title, Woods appeared almost embarrassed that anothers failure had resulted in his success
 
When Jose Maria Olazabal missed a 4-foot putt to give Tiger this years Buick Invitational title, he was apologetic in victory, telling Ollie that he was sorry to have won that way.
 
And when Ernie Els butchered the first hole of sudden death this past week in Dubai, Woods was the one who looked like he had just made bogey when he tapped in for victory.
 
Each time, however, these emotions were re-directed 180 degrees immediately after hugging his caddie. Thats when the smiles and laughs came out -- and a little bit of truth.
 
Truth is: Tiger must really enjoy this. Certainly, he would rather win a tournament than to have someone else lose it, but there must be a great deal of satisfaction and self-empowerment to know that others are crumbling in your presence.
 
Makes one wonder if there is a fear factor in relation to Tiger Woods?
 
If so, its certainly not the same as it was some five, six years ago. But there still seems to be something there.
 
Players might not fear Tiger off the first tee on Thursday (unless its the British Open at St. Andrews). But if faced with him head-to-head on Sunday then it is Advantage Tiger in the psychological department (he's a career 13-1 in playoffs as a professional).
 
Fear might not be the appropriate word any more. Perhaps its more like anxiety.
 
When matched against Woods in a match-play situation, a player might feel the pressure of needing perfection. Believing that Woods will not make a mistake might force others to do just that.
 
Having never played Tiger head-to-head -- with the exception of on his video game, in which I punish him regularly -- I have no idea exactly what this feels like. I can only imagine and play pop psychologist, and try and make sense of what Ive seen when others have been in that situation.
 
Daly rushing and then lipping out a short par putt could happen on any hole in any round ' not just in a playoff against Woods. After all, he also drove his tee shot into the water on the first hole of sudden death against Vijay Singh in last years Shell Houston Open.
 
Olazabals hiccup at Torrey Pines wasnt an aberration. He missed a couple of similar putts when he had multiple chances to win last years BellSouth Classic in a playoff, which featured, among others, Phil Mickelson.
 
And give Woods some credit: he shot 3-under 67 on Sunday in San Francisco to force sudden death with Daly, parring a very difficult final hole to do so; he made an 8-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole at the Buick to get into a playoff with Olazabal and Nathan Green; and he birdied each of his final two holes this Sunday to force overtime with Els.
 
Els meltdown is a little more difficult to explain than the previous two. Hes a three-time winner of the Dubai Desert Classic and has shown before (like at the 2003 Presidents Cup) that he can handle a one-on-one situation with Woods.
 
He hadnt made a bogey all day in the final round, and had even birdied the 18th hole to force Woods to do the same just to get into a playoff.
 
In fact, Els had played the hole in 5 under for the week ' the same as he did a year ago, when he eagled the par-5 finishing hole to win the tournament by one.
 
And yet this time, he pulls his tee shot, pushes his second into the water ' while trying to navigate his ball underneath some tree limbs, and makes bogey.
 
Head-scratching stuff.
 
Was it due to fear? Not likely. Anxiety? Maybe. Plain and simple poor execution? Could very well be.
 
Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: if someone doesnt stand up to Tiger soon ' before he really gets his game clicking, he might even be able to pay the taxes on his new home.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
Related Links:
  • Full Coverage - Dubai Desert Classic