Sunday, April 13, 2008

Tiger's one little flaw


I had this back-and-forth with the voice inside my head the other day:

Me: So, does Tiger Woods have any weaknesses?

Voice: How about his driving? Isn't it too inaccurate?

Me: Um, no. It's actually pretty good.

Voice: Oh, his putting. He doesn't have the touch of guys like "Lefty."

Me: Are you kidding me? Did you not see the 25-footer he dropped the other week to win that tournament?

Voice: Right, my bad (thinking) ... Well, Tiger sometimes swears on national TV?

Me: OK, enough. Argument's over. Tiger is perfect.

Actually, he isn't. You see, when he has to come from behind to win a major on the tournament's final day, Tiger Woods isn't very good.

I know, I know. I'm being picky. But it's true — Woods has never won one of the four majors when trailing entering Sunday. And it's not like he hasn't had plenty of opportunities. It seems like every year he's in one or two majors where he's just a few strokes back heading into Sunday.

Of course, many other players have never won a major despite being behind by just a few strokes heading into several Sundays. But Tiger Woods isn't just another guy; he needs to be held to a different standard.

It's not that Woods bombs on Sundays, either. He simply doesn't do enough to make up whatever gap exists between him and the leader(s). Take Sunday's round at the Masters:

Woods didn't play a terrible 18. For the most part, he hit the ball well, finding most fairways and reaching most greens in regulation. He didn't make any gigantic blunders, and after his birdie putt dropped on No. 18, he walked away with an even-par 72.

It really wasn't a bad round, but it seemed that way. That's because Woods began the day six strokes back of leader Trevor Immelman. The South African didn't play amazingly well Sunday and committed a normally unacceptable error when he plopped his tee shot on the par-3 16th into the water.

Immelman finished with a mediocre 3-over-par 75, but it was more than enough to defeat second-place Woods by three strokes.

Now, put Woods in Immelman's shoes. If the world's No. 1 player had began the day at 11 under par and shot his 72, he would have won by six strokes. People right now would be talking about his chances of winning all four majors. It would have been a typically steely final-round performance by the world's best athlete.

Nobody is better than Woods at holding onto a final-day lead. He is far too consistent and far too confident to let an advantage slip away. When he sees the finish line, he doesn't look in his rear-view mirror.

But when Woods begins the final 18 holes of a major behind, consistency isn't enough. Pars usually will not get him a Green Jacket. And the putts that usually fall for him suddenly fall short, suddenly rim out.

Such was the case Sunday, when Woods had tons of opportunities to put some serious pressure on Immelman. I'll skip the front nine and go right to the back. After a Tiger-esque birdie from around 493 feet on No. 11 moved him to 5 under, Woods started walking with a swagger. You could see that he believed he would win.

And sure enough, Woods made two superb shots on the par-5 13th to give himself a short putt for birdie. At the time, Immelman faced a long par putt on the 11th. At that moment, I was thinking what every other CBS viewer must have thought: "A two-shot swing for Tiger. Watch out, Trevor!"

However, the improbable happened. I can't remember which putt was shown first, but Tiger missed his 6- or 7-footer and Immelman knocked in what had to have been at least a 15-footer. Just like that, the lead stayed at five strokes.

The tournament was far from over, however. But Woods missed another short put on 14, this time giving him a bogey, and missed yet another short birdie putt on 16. At the time, the roll-by on the par 3 didn't seem to matter, but when Immelman made his only huge error on the same hole, I realized just how much Woods had blown the tournament.

Which isn't to take anything away from Immelman. He did what he had to do. Playing in gusty conditions, he made huge putt after huge putt and didn't give the competition a reason to believe he was slipping. He never let a bogey turn into two bogeys.

But Woods could have won Sunday — just like there are numerous other majors he could have come back to steal. Heck, he could have eclipsed Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 by now. But for some reason, Tiger is simply normal — just good, not great — when he isn't at the top of the leader board.

You could see the frustration on his face Sunday. With each missed putt, Woods' jaw muscles tightened. There was no swearing on camera or club-banging, but Woods was clearly upset with himself. He was obviously pressing, and when Woods does that, he loses the touch with his putter.

That's the game of golf for you. If you want to overcome a six-stroke deficit — or even a three-stroke deficit — you better make putts. You can hit the ball extremely well. You can reach all the greens in regulation. But if you don't roll in at least some of your putts, you're nothing special.

On Sunday at Augusta, Tiger Woods was normal. A good golfer who contended for a major championship but didn't stand out from his competitors. He hit some long drives. He made a long putt. He went home with a nice, fat paycheck.

Woods' round again proved just how difficult the game of golf is and how tough it is to win consistently against dozens of fellow competitors. It made Woods' streak of wins earlier this year look even more impressive, but it also made all the prognosticators who predicted Woods would win the Grand Slam look, well, silly.

Even Woods said a week ago that he didn't think winning all four majors in the same calendar year would be that difficult. He was wrong. As good as Woods is — yes, it's safe to call him the greatest of all time — he's never going to take the four big ones in the same year.

That would likely require Woods leading after three rounds in each of the tournaments, and I'm not going to attempt to figure out those odds.

One of these days, Woods will do it. He'll make enough putts to come back to win a major on a Sunday. It will happen. It's not like his confidence is lacking.

But for now, if you're searching for a FOTW (Flaw of Tiger Woods), look no further than what transpired Sunday at Augusta.

The world's greatest player had all the opportunities to make the rest of the golf world bow at his feet, but he didn't convert.

There's a tiny, little flaw for ya.

1 comment:

ssreporters said...

There is another....his knee.