Tiger faces failed legacy

By Jason SobelJune 8, 2011, 5:15 pm

Will Tiger pass Jack?

It's a question that for years has been batted around in 19th holes worldwide like a kitten going after a ball of yarn. Which is to say, everyone gets their turn and no one can unravel the situation.

Those four little words have become the “Who shot J.R.?” of the current sports lexicon, the query firmly entrenched in our consciousness.

Tiger, of course, is Tiger Woods, the second all-time major championship victory leader with 14, currently sidelined once again by injuries. Jack is Jack Nicklaus, a legendary figure and the only man to own more major titles.

And while the former is chasing the latter in many of the game's vaunted records, this is the only one that matters. Can Tiger win five more majors?

I'm here to give you my absolute, unequivocal, expert opinion.

I have no idea.

Anyone who says otherwise is simply speculating and hoping to be correct.

That's not what this column is about, though. I'll let the weary souls in the 19th holes debate the – for now – unanswerable question about Tiger trying to pass Jack.

Instead, let's focus on the byproduct of such long-term debates. Let's discuss what it means for a man to chase history in the midst of physical, technical and emotional issues within his life.

When Roger Maris was trying to surpass Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961, he was chided by opponents and booed lustily from fans. He broke the record, but not without some heartache and losing his hair.

Similarly, when Hank Aaron was in the midst of surpassing Ruth's all-time home run record more than a decade later, he was taunted by racial derisions and often received death threats.

Woods may not face the same witch-hunt against his cause as those record-breakers, but there are certainly those who don't wish for him to pass Nicklaus. It has become such a widely held subplot within the game, though, that there may only be two logical conclusions.

If Tiger passes Jack, he's a success. And if he doesn't, he's a failure.

Think about that for a minute. If Woods never wins another major championship for a combination of reasons including injury and emotional distress, his lasting legacy won't be that of the second-greatest winner, but of the first loser.

Seve Ballesteros recently passed away with five major victories and was hailed as an all-time great – as well he should have been. Woods owns nine more majors and yet if he fails to reach Nicklaus the lasting image of his career will be more about what he didn't accomplish than what he did.

That's a brutally difficult concept under which to play championship-caliber golf – even for one of the mentally toughest players in the game's history.

You've got to wonder whether Woods believes it, too. He's a guy who grew up with a Nicklaus poster on his bedroom wall, who knew all about the man's records – especially the most important one.

Everything he does to advance his professional career these days is toward that one common goal: To win major championships. As Woods said last month and has said numerous times over his career, 'The whole idea is that I peak four times a year.'

As much pressure as Woods places on himself to continue chasing Nicklaus’ record, it may pale in comparison to the pressure being placed on him from the outside world. For so long, he wasn’t just a candidate to become the all-time leader in major victories, he was expected to ascend to that throne. It was always less a matter of “if” than “when.”

Now, of course, that preconceived probability has been downgraded to a possibility – or as some believe, an impossibility.

Woods announced on Tuesday that he would forego next week’s U.S. Open due to lingering leg injuries. That means he will have gone more than three years without a major win before he makes his next appearance.

At 35, there is still plenty of time to conquer Nicklaus’ achievement, but if he doesn’t – if he fails to fulfill what was long believed to be his destiny – he will be remembered more for coming up short than contending for the title.

It isn’t that Woods will fail to break the record, it’s that he brought such failure upon himself. If he didn’t change his swing so frequently during his career … if he didn’t commit infidelity in his marriage … if he didn’t continue trying to play through injuries … then maybe we would have witnessed history.

That will be the backlash against him should he someday close his career as the second all-time major winner. The prevailing sentiment will be less about celebrating his career and more about how he robbed observers from getting an opportunity to see what could have been the most enthralling sports moment of their lives.

There’s still a long way to go until we get to that point. Will Tiger pass Jack? Maybe, maybe not. If he doesn’t, though, his legacy will forever endure as the guy who let it get away rather than the one who came so close.

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Reed match taught McIlroy the need to conserve energy

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:18 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – One of the most memorable Ryder Cup singles matches in recent history was also one of the most exhausting.

Rory McIlroy was asked on Wednesday at Le Golf National about his singles bout with Patrick Reed two years ago at Hazeltine National, when the duo combined for eight birdies and an eagle through eight frenzied holes.

“I could play it for nine holes, and then it suddenly hit me,” said McIlroy, who was 5 under through eight holes but played his final 10 holes in 2 over par. “The level sort of declined after that and sort of reached its crescendo on the eighth green, and the last 10 holes wasn't quite as good.”

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In retrospect McIlroy said the match, which he lost, 1 down, was educational and he realized that maintaining that level of emotion over 18 holes isn’t realistic.

“It looked tiring to have to play golf like that for three days,” he said. “I learnt a lot from that and learnt that it's good to get excited and it's good to have that, but at the same time, if I need and have to be called upon to play a late match on Sunday or whatever it is, I want to have all my energy in reserve so that I can give everything for 18 holes because I did hit a wall that back nine on Sunday, and it cost me.”

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U.S. team gives Tiger 'cold shoulder' after Tour Championship win

By Rex HoggardSeptember 26, 2018, 10:08 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Tiger Woods was one of the final members of Team USA to make it to the team room late Sunday in Atlanta after his travel plans were delayed by his victory at the Tour Championship.

As the team waited, captain Jim Furyk concocted a plan for Woods.

“I ran into Jim Furyk and he said, ‘We were thinking about giving Tiger the cold shoulder like they do in baseball when the guy hits his first home run.’ He asked, ‘Do you think Tiger will be OK with that?’” Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava told Ryder Cup Radio on Sirius/XM. “I was like, ‘Of course he would. He’s got a sense of humor.’”

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The U.S. team had plenty to cheer on Sunday with vice captain Steve Stricker also winning on the PGA Tour Champions. But it was Woods’ reception following his 80th PGA Tour victory and his first in five years that provided the best reaction.

“Tiger shows up about a half-hour later and is looking for some high-fives from everybody and they wouldn’t give him the time of day. They weren’t even looking at him, they all have their backs to him,” LaCava said. “He’s looking at me like what’s going on? He’s not a guy who is looking for fanfare, but these are his boys. He’s looking for 11 guys to run up and give him a good hug.”

LaCava said the team ignored Woods for about two minutes before breaking the silence with cheers and congratulations.

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How FedExCup has changed Ryder Cup prep

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:56 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The improved play of the U.S. Ryder Cup team might be attributed to more than just youthful exuberance or camaraderie.

Phil Mickelson said the PGA Tour schedule is also a factor.

Mickelson argued this week that the advent of the FedExCup Playoffs, in 2007, has contributed to the Americans’ better results in the biennial matches. Save for the disastrous blowout in 2014 at Gleneagles, the Americans have either won or been locked in a tight match with the Europeans.

“I think the FedExCup is a big asset for us,” Mickelson said. “In the past, we’ve had six weeks off in between our last competition and the Ryder Cup. This year, although we might be tired, we might have had a long stretch, our games are much sharper because of our consistent play week-in and week-out heading into this event.”

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When presented with Mickelson’s theory, Justin Rose, the new FedExCup champion, countered by saying that the Europeans are the fresher team this week – and that could be more important during such a stressful event.

Seventeen of the 24 players here were in East Lake for the Tour Championship, meaning they not only played the minimum number of events for PGA Tour membership, but also played in at least three of the four playoff events.

Some of the European players, however, have remained loyal to their home tour and taken more time off. Henrik Stenson missed a few events to rest his ailing elbow. Sergio Garcia didn’t play for four weeks. And even Rose has adjusted his schedule during the latter part of the season, to make sure that he was as fresh as possible for the Ryder Cup. That meant skipping the pro-am in Boston and flying in on Thursday night, on the eve of the tournament, and reducing his number of practice rounds.

“It’s interesting,” Rose said. “They might feel like they are playing their way in and our guys are going to have a bit of gas in the tank. We’ll have to evaluate it on Sunday, but I’m hoping our strategy is going to be the one that pays off in the long run.”

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Rose hoping for FedEx/Ryder Cup party on Sunday

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2018, 8:41 am

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Justin Rose is hoping for the biggest party of all on Sunday night.

With the quick turnaround with the Ryder Cup, the newly crowned FedExCup champion hasn’t had much time to celebrate his season-long title that he earned Sunday at the Tour Championship.

“The FedExCup, for me, it finished on the plane,” Rose said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the plane ride over, but once I landed in Paris, I was one of 12 guys. I didn’t want it to carry over into this week. This week is about another job to do.”

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Rose said his Ryder Cup teammates have resorted to the usual tactics – “Apparently all the drinks are on my tab this week,” he joked – but just as Team USA may have used a boost with Tiger Woods winning, the Europeans can take confidence in having the FedExCup champion on their side.

As for any premature celebrations, Rose said: “I can shelve that for another week or so. I will certainly enjoy it. It’s kind of a season-long title that you really want to enjoy. But I’d like to maybe start that party on Sunday night and here for the right reasons, because of this week.”