Appreciating Tiger Woods

By Mercer BaggsAugust 20, 2006, 4:00 pm
2006 PGA ChampionshipMEDINAH, Ill. -- I try and give people the benefit of the doubt, like, Maybe Terrell Owens really is injured and can't practice. Or, Maybe Floyd Landis really does have the testosterone of 10 men.
 
And so I thought, yet again, Saturday night, Maybe somebody really can beat Tiger Woods when hes leading after 54 holes of a major championship.
 
Fool. Fool. Damn fool.
 
Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods captured his third Wanamaker Trophy this week at Medinah.
Hes not going to win them all, Geoff Ogilvy said after the third round. Hes pretty special, but hes not unbeatable.
 
In this situation, Geoff, yes, yes he is. Woods is now a perfect 12-0 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead in a major. 12 and 0. The other 69 men who made the cut this week have barely combined to have 12 such opportunities.
 
Some get annoyed when we in the media slather Woods in praise. But, without question, the man deserves it. He deserves all of it. The greatest of the great make extreme difficulty seem simple. Thats what Woods is doing.
 
Woods is now two-thirds of the way to Nicklaus all-time major victories record of 18, arriving at that number in just 10 full seasons on the PGA TOUR ' and three years earlier than Jack.
 
Honestly, Tiger winning 18 appears to be a formality. Assuming that he stays healthy, youve got to give him at least three more green jackets over the next decade, which means he only has to win one more at each of the other three majors to match that mark.
 
I think he can handle that.
 
Tigers not just the most talented player in the world; hes the most complete. They try to 'Tiger proof' courses, but that doesn't work anymore. And as he's displayed at these last two majors, he can adapt his game.
 
He can win at even par; he can win at 24 under. He can win by hitting iron off most every tee; he can win on the longest course in major championship history. He can win in the wind and the rain; he can win in the sun and the shine.
 
He can beat you when youre playing youre best; he can beat you when hes not.
 
Players love to say that they cant worry about what Tiger is doing. I just have to play my own game, they say ' and so many said it once again Saturday evening. But they do have to worry about Tiger, because their game cant beat his game.
 
They should be saying, I need to play my best on Sunday and hope that Tiger gets attacked by a wolverine.
 
All this considered: Is it that improbable to see him doubling his figures, in TOUR victories (51) and major wins (12), over the next 10 years?
 
Not at all, said three-time major winner and Hall of Fame member Nick Price. One-hundred wins, 20-25 majors. Thats entirely possible. How much he wins is (determined by) how long he wants to play.
 
There is one thing that Tiger can do to assure himself of more major victories ' put me on his payroll. For the right price, which is about a ride back to Orlando and a bottle of Jim Beam, Ill keep believing that one day hell lose the lead in the final round of a major championship. Ill keep believing that somebody can beat him in this particular situation.
 
I'll keep being wrong.
 
I got an e-mail this week from a reader who said that Woods doesnt compare to Nicklaus, because Tiger doesnt have Jack's level of competition.
 
I dont like comparing different eras, because I wasnt around in the 60s and was more consumed with Star Wars action figures than golf in the 70s. Is Tiger better than Jack? Couldnt tell you. All I know is that hes the greatest player Ive ever seen, and that the only people who draw a comparison to him in my time are athletes in other sports.
 
That reader was also adamant that Woods should not be considered among the top 5 players of all time.
 
And, hes partially right.
 
One of the new planets that scientists believe they have discovered is the planet Crazy; and on planet Crazy, Tiger Woods is not among the top 5 players of all time.
 
Woods is now second to only Nicklaus in career majors won, passing Walter Hagen.
 
This was his third PGA Championship triumph, and his second at Medinah (1999). Hes now just one U.S. Open win away from completing his third trip around the career Grand Slam, something only Nicklaus has done (no other full-time player on TOUR today has more than three career majors of any kind).
 
By winning this week, and adding to his Open Championship victory a month ago, he captured multiple major titles in the same season for the fourth time in his career (Nicklaus did it five times).
 
And with this victory, he appears to be a lock to win yet another money title (his seventh in 10 full seasons on TOUR) and another Player of the Year award (his eighth).
 
Oh, and he's halfway to completing the 'Tiger Slam' once again, winning four straight majors, which is something he did from the 2000 U.S. Open to the 2001 Masters Tournament. And, in case you're wondering, the way he's playing right now reminds him an awfully lot of the way he was playing back then.
 
'Yeah,' he said with his Tiger Woods grin. 'Pretty close.'
 
Whether or not you're a fan, appreciate what Woods is doing. You may not get a chance over the remainder of your life to see anyone else do it better.
 
Email your thoughts to Mercer Baggs
 
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    Na: I can admit, 'I went through the yips'

    By Rex HoggardJuly 17, 2018, 3:35 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following his victory two weeks ago at A Military Tribute at the Greenbrier, Kevin Na said his second triumph on the PGA Tour was the most rewarding of his career.

    Although he declined to go into details as to why the victory was so gratifying at The Greenbrier, as he completed his practice round on Tuesday at the Open Championship, Na shed some light on how difficult the last few years have been.

    “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, 'I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, 'He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.' I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    Na, who made headlines for his struggles to begin his backswing when he found himself in the lead at the 2012 Players Championship, said he asked other players who had gone through similar bouts with the game’s most dreaded ailment how they were able to get through it.

    “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”

    The payoff, however, has steadily arrived this season. Na said he’d been confident with his game this season following a runner-up showing at the Genesis Open and a fourth-place finish at the Fort Worth Invitational, and he felt he was close to a breakthrough. But being able to finish a tournament like he did at The Greenbrier, where he won by five strokes, was particularly rewarding.

    “All good now,” he smiled. “I knew I was good enough to win again, but until you do it sometimes you question yourself. It’s just the honest truth.”

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    Koepka still has chip on his chiseled shoulder

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 3:06 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brooks Koepka prepared more for this Open than last year's.

    He picked up his clubs three times.

    That’s three more than last summer, when the only shots he hit between the summer Opens was during a commercial shoot for Michelob Ultra at TPC Sawgrass. He still tied for sixth at The Open a month later.

    This time, Koepka kept his commitment to play the Travelers, then hit balls three times between the final round in Hartford and this past Sunday, when he first arrived here at Carnoustie.

    Not that he was concerned, of course.

    Koepka’s been playing golf for nearly 20 years. He wasn’t about to forget to how to swing a club after a few weeks off.

    “It was pretty much the same thing,” he said Tuesday, during his pre-tournament news conference. “I shared it with one of my best friends, my family, and it was pretty much the same routine. It was fun. We enjoyed it. But I’m excited to get back inside the ropes and start playing again. I think you need to enjoy it any time you win and really embrace it and think about what you’ve done.”

    At Shinnecock Hills, Koepka became the first player in nearly 30 years to repeat as U.S. Open champion – a major title that helped him shed his undeserved reputation as just another 20-something talent who relies solely on his awesome power. In fact, he takes immense pride in his improved short game and putting inside 8 feet.

    “I can take advantage of long golf courses,” he said, “but I enjoy plotting my way around probably - more than the bombers’ golf courses - where you’ve got to think, be cautious sometimes, and fire at the center of the greens. You’ve got to be very disciplined, and that’s the kind of golf I enjoy.”

    Which is why Koepka once again fancies his chances here on the type of links that helped launch his career.

    Koepka was out of options domestically after he failed to reach the final stage of Q-School in 2012. So he packed his bags and headed overseas, going on a tear on the European Challenge Tour (Europe’s equivalent of the Web.com circuit) and earning four titles, including one here in Scotland. That experience was the most fun and beneficial part of his career, when he learned to win, be self-sufficient and play in different conditions.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “There’s certain steps, and I embraced it,” Koepka said. “I think that’s where a lot of guys go wrong. You are where you are, and you have to make the best of it instead of just putting your head down and being like, 'Well, I should be on the PGA Tour.' Well, guess what? You’re not. So you’ve got to suck it up wherever you are, make the best of it, and keep plugging away and trying to win everything you can because, eventually, if you’re good enough, you will get out here.”

    Koepka has proved that he’s plenty good enough, of course: He’s a combined 20 under in the majors since the beginning of 2017, the best of any player during that span. But he still searches long and hard for a chip to put on his chiseled shoulder.

    In his presser after winning at Shinnecock, Koepka said that he sometimes feels disrespected and forgotten, at least compared to his more-ballyhooed peers. It didn’t necessarily bother him – he prefers to stay out of the spotlight anyway, eschewing a media tour after each of his Open titles – but it clearly tweaked him enough for him to admit it publicly.

    That feeling didn’t subside after he went back to back at the Open, either. On U.S. Open Sunday, ESPN’s Instagram page didn’t showcase a victorious Koepka, but rather a video of New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. dunking a basketball.

    “He’s like 6-foot-2. He’s got hops – we all know that – and he’s got hands. So what’s impressive about that?” Koepka said. “But I always try to find something where I feel like I’m the underdog and put that little chip on my shoulder. Even if you’re No. 1, you’ve got to find a way to keep going and keep that little chip on.

    “I think I’ve done a good job of that. I need to continue doing that, because once you’re satisfied, you’re only going to go downhill. You try to find something to get better and better, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”

    Now 28, Koepka has a goal of how many majors he’d like to win before his career is over, but he wasn’t about to share it.

    Still, he was adamant about one thing: “Right now I’m focused on winning. That’s the only thing I’ve got in my mind. Second place just isn’t good enough. I finished second a lot, and I’m just tired of it. Once you win, it kind of propels you. You have this mindset where you just want to keep winning. It breeds confidence, but you want to have that feeling of gratification: I finally did this. How cool is this?”

    So cool that Koepka can’t wait to win another one.

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    Despite results, Thomas loves links golf

    By Jay CoffinJuly 17, 2018, 2:48 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Despite poor results in two previous Open Championships, Justin Thomas contends that he has what it takes to be a good links player. In fact, he believes that he is a good links player.

    Two years ago at Royal Troon, Thomas shot 77 in the second round to tie for 53rd place. He was on the wrong side of the draw that week that essentially eliminated anyone from contention who played late Friday afternoon.

    Last year at Royal Birkdale, Thomas made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 sixth hole in the second round and missed the cut by two shots.


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “I feel like I’ve played more than two Opens, but I haven’t had any success here,” Thomas said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I feel like I am a good links player, although I don’t really have the results to show.”

    Although he didn’t mention it as a reason for success this week, Thomas is a much different player now than he was two years ago, having ascended to the No. 1 position in the world for a few weeks and now resting comfortably in the second spot.

    He also believes a high golf IQ, and the ability to shape different shots into and with the wind are something that will help him in The Open over the next 20 years.

    “I truly enjoy the creativity,” Thomas said. “It presents a lot of different strategies, how you want to play it, if you want to be aggressive, if you want to be conservative, if you want to attack some holes, wait on certain winds, whatever it might be. It definitely causes you to think.

    “With it being as firm as it is, it definitely adds a whole other variable to it.”

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    Reed's major record now a highlight, not hindrance

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 17, 2018, 2:46 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The narrative surrounding Patrick Reed used to be that he could play well in the Ryder Cup but not the majors.

    So much for that.

    Reed didn’t record a top-10 in his first 15 starts in a major, but he took the next step in his career by tying for second at the 2017 PGA Championship. He followed that up with a breakthrough victory at the Masters, then finished fourth at the U.S. Open after a closing 68.

    He’s the only player with three consecutive top-4s in the majors.

    What’s the difference now?


    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


    “The biggest thing is I treat them like they’re normal events,” he said Tuesday at Carnoustie. “I’ve always gone into majors and put too much pressure on myself, having to go play well, having to do this or that. Now I go in there and try to play golf and keep in the mindset of, Hey, it’s just another day on the golf course. Let’s just go play.

    “I’ve been able to stay in that mindset the past three, and I’ve played pretty well in all three of them.”

    Reed’s record in the year’s third major has been hit or miss – a pair of top-20s and two missed cuts – but he says he’s a better links player now than when he began his career. It took the native Texan a while to embrace the creativity required here and also to comprehend the absurd distances he can hit the ball with the proper wind, conditions and bounce.

    “I’m sort of accepting it,” he said. “I’ve gotten a little more comfortable with doing it. It’s come a little bit easier, especially down the stretch in tournament play.”