Monday, August 21, 2006

Felis Tigris Freakis

There's a lot of bad stuff happening in the world, so this is a good time to step back and talk about one of the rare joys of our time which is watching Tiger Woods at the top of his game. To use the modern vernacular, the guy is sick. And I don't think I could find a better word to describe him.

Anybody who doesn't play golf has no idea what a freak of nature Tiger Woods is, because the game isn't as easy as he'd have you believe. And those who do play golf and watch him play wonder why we even bother. There are almost two different Tigers: the one who is not at his sharpest but can still do everything just well enough to beat you, and the one like we saw this past weekend who is firing on all cylinders and everyone else need not show up. Tiger shot 65 on Saturday, which tied the course record at Medinah. Mike Weir shot a 65 the same day, but there was a difference. Weir had a spectacular round, hitting shots to within a foot of the hole, or making long putts - the kind of special round that only happens once in a while. Woods made his round look as routine as walking the dog, not flashy but remarkably steady.

When the player with the most physical ability also happens to be the toughest mentally, it isn't a fair fight. Aside from being able to drive the ball a mile, hit shorter clubs when he needs to keep it straight of the tee, hit precision iron shots, make creative shots around the green, putt like nobody else and manage a course brilliantly, Tiger might be the only athlete I've ever seen who is choke-proof. There is never any doubt about him coming through in the clutch (as an individual - Ryder Cup is a whole other matter.) The scariest thing about him is that he is actually getting better, and despite the improving quality and depth of his competition he has returned to the level of dominance he experienced back in 2000-2001. In the PGA Championship he won by five strokes and posted 18 under par while barely breaking a sweat. And nobody doubts that if another player had gotten to that number, he'd have found another couple of birdies somewhere, just as he did at the British Open. He's like roadrunner who lets the coyote get close to him and then zoom! It was an awesome performance.

I have to also say a word about my favourite Canadian lefty golfer, Mike Weir. Weirsy has had a rough go of it the last couple of years, ever since losing the 2004 Canadian Open which he should have won. Injuries were a factor last year, but I don't think he has ever mentally recovered from letting that tournament slip away, seeing how important it was to him. He has never again been in contention to win a tournament coming down to the last few holes. Despite playing pretty good golf this year, he has had some very poor final rounds when he started out with a chance to win. To his credit, he held it together yesterday until Tiger pulled away, but then he seemed to lose his focus. I think he needs to realize that you can't always control what other players are going to do but you have to grind it out right to the end. While sixth place is a good result in a major, there was no reason for him not to have finished second yesterday. He really needs to try to finish as high as possible to earn world ranking points. With the President's Cup at Royal Montreal next year, it would be a shame if he didn't make the team or had to be a captain's pick. (He's currently 15th on the International team.) On the positive side, he performed well in the majors this year and his statistics are getting back to the same levels they were at in his brightest days. Hopefully it will all come together at the Canadian Open this year and all of those demons can be exorcised.

As for Tiger, I guess he'll wrap up a few more wins before the next major rolls around in Augusta next April. The question now is how many majors can he bag before he calls it a day. Barring injury, you'd have to think that he has, conservatively, another ten years of prime golf. It's not hard to see him averaging a major a year over the next ten years. In several of them he will likely win two or more, and he might have another "slump" or two along the way. Knowing the kind of shape he's in he could easily play much longer than that, but he might get bored or want to enter politics or something by then. And he'll probably want to walk away on top. It's hard to imagine who will finally take his number one spot and keep it. It will probably have to be someone who isn't on the scene yet, because everyone who's there now is completely psyched out. The man is sick.

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