Why Tiger Woods won’t win a Major in 2014

By Jeffrey A. Rendall

It’s always fun reading about New Year’s predictions and resolutions, because the prognostications are usually about as accurate as the resolves are long-lasting. Most golf commentators that I’ve seen are foretelling of a Tiger Woods victory in a major championship this year, and some are even expecting multiple victories.

I’m not quite sure if these are actual predictions as much as they are wishful (and hopeful) thinking. The golf world certainly needs Tiger Woods, and to some, they need him to win in order for golf to remain relevant.

ImageI depart from these soothsayers for a number of reasons. First and foremost is because in 2014, Tiger will be almost six years removed from his most recent major win (at the 2008 U.S. Open) when he tees it up at the Masters in April. That 2008 triumph is the one where he famously gutted out a victory despite hobbling around on a torn-up knee and a broken leg.

Who can forget him limping noticeably and grimacing after each swing? Impressive, for sure – maybe as plucky a feat as there ever has been in sports.

But six years is still six years, and a lot has happened in those half dozen seasons. Tiger’s personal fall from grace and his subsequent return are certainly a feel-good story, but there is also the matter of his physical well-being. Tiger turned 38 last month and there have been a lengthy series of injuries between today and 2008.

38 years-old is hardly over-the-hill in golf or much else, for that matter. But 38 with a rash of health issues to recover from over the past six years is a special circumstance. In this sense, 38 ain’t 32.

Perhaps even more daunting to Tiger’s potential fortunes in 2014 is his recent record in majors. People make a big deal out of his not-so-near-miss in the 2013 Masters (believe it or not, the 15th hole did not singularly ruin his chances in the tournament), but after leaving Georgia, he really didn’t come close to winning any of the other majors.

Tiger was never a factor at Merion in the U.S. Open, finishing at +13 and tied for 32nd. True, he had a chance going into Sunday’s final round at the Open Championship in July, but faded down the stretch and ended up tied for sixth.

Finally, the PGA was a complete disaster for Tiger, where he struggled from beginning to end and tied for 40th.

Woods also rounded out the season with an uninspiring run through the FedEx Cup playoffs. Again, he was fighting an ailing back at the same time – but results are results.

It seems to me that Tiger is hampered just as much by his between-the-ears problems as with his physicality. His old coach, Butch Harmon, remarked that Tiger looks to have lost his nerve on short putts. But it appears to be more than that – when he’s “off,” his entire game goes south.

One need only look at Tiger’s execution down the stretch of several key tournaments last year to see that the “old” Tiger doesn’t really exist anymore. There aren’t any glaring examples of a “choke,” but there also aren’t any triumphant moments of victory.

Gone are the fist-pumps and coma-inducing stares. The Tiger aura has faded – his peers just aren’t afraid of him anymore, and I think he realizes it.

Which brings me to my final point: Tiger won’t win a major this year because the competition is too intense. Woods may still be ranked #1 in the world – and deservedly so – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a host of good players who are capable of rising up during those four major weeks on the calendar.

Odds are that they will, just like they did in 2013 — and 2012, 2011, 2010 and 2009, too.

And that’s why Tiger will likely go empty-handed again in 2014.Image

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What Tiger Woods can learn from 2013’s Major Champions

With Jason Dufner’s win at the PGA Championship, the 2013 major season ended with yet another terrific human-interest story – but without a Tiger Woods victory.

Woods’ underwhelming finish (T-40) at the tournament surprised many, coming on the heels of his dominating performance the week prior at the Bridgestone Invitational. Golf commentators were at a loss on Sunday evening to explain how things went so wrong for Woods at Oak Hill, and speculation continues on whether this generation’s most accomplished player will ever match Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins.

And while Woods played well in two of this year’s majors – even having a chance to win on Sunday at the Masters and British Open – there’s a lot that he could learn from the victors.

Most of all, how to win with humility and class.

Make no mistake, Woods has earned the right to be a little cocky and arrogant, having compiled 79 career PGA Tour wins and locked down 14 major championship trophies during his time as a professional. But none of those majors have come after his world unraveled in late 2009, with the revelation of his extra-marital affairs and eventual divorce.

Woods apologized to his fans in early 2010, and promised to show more respect for the game after being taught a valuable life’s lesson in front of the entire world.

Sadly, that respect still seems to be lacking. Even now, Woods curses and mutters after each poor shot – regardless of the presence of the gallery or the TV audience. For someone with such remarkable personal discipline and athletic self-control, you can’t help but wonder why he refuses to clean up his act.

It’s embarrassing to everyone who witnesses it, but apparently not to Woods himself.

In contrast, all of this year’s major winners are true champions – not only on the scorecard, but also in the interview room and with their on-course behavior. Australian Adam Scott, Englishman Justin Rose and Americans Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner have all experienced very public heartache during their careers.

All handled the adversity with class that engendered a healthy dose of respect from golf fans. For that reason, this year’s group of major winners are celebrated as a crop of “good guys.” Their on-course behavior is exemplary and there’s never been a need to tell young folks to “ignore what he just said” or did. Further, they all were quite humble in the wake of their victories, thanking parents, family and fans for their support over the years.

Professional golfers, like all professional athletes, are not necessarily the types of role models that we want to put forward for our kids. After all, they didn’t exactly ask for all the public scrutiny – but it goes along with being special, and talented.

There’s a higher responsibility for those who achieve great things, whether they choose to accept it or not. For those, such as Woods, who also earn millions through the endorsement of products, the duty is even greater. If you want to “be like Tiger,” then Tiger had better be someone that a kid should want to be like.

There’s more to life than hitting a golf ball a long way. To be a true role model, you must also be the type of person that people would look up to.

If the next generation wants to emulate someone, I’d argue that Scott, Rose, Mickelson and Dufner are just the right examples to follow. They’re champions on and off the course – something that even the great Tiger Woods could learn from.

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Why we root for Phil Mickelson

I can’t say for sure, but I’m guessing there were a lot of smiles across America on Sunday morning. It’s always great to see a golf legend do something he’s never done before, but even more heartening when it’s someone who most of us relate to.

Golf fans have lived and agonized with Phil Mickelson for two decades, and to see him come through at the Open Championship was a moment we won’t ever forget. Mickelson hugged his longtime caddy, shook hands with some officials and then received a minute-long group hug from his lovely family after it was all over.

It was reminiscent of the embrace he shared with wife Amy after the 2010 Masters. Anyone with a heart was fighting back tears at that time, and I’m guessing there were a few more wet cheeks this year as well.

Why do we care so much? Mickelson is a wildly successful career athlete who’s won a lot more than most – and is rich beyond ordinary contemplation. He’s also made controversial comments at certain times, generating scorn from observers as a spoiled elitist who’s out-of-touch.

But perhaps it’s Mickelson’s blunt candor that endears him to so many. Phil’s reached the height of his profession, yet we’re still able to relate to him. On his walk to the 18th tee after making what must be considered the victory sealing birdie on Sunday, for example, Mickelson was still acknowledging the British fans, slapping hands and fist bumping a good many of them.

Here’s a man who was about to ascend to incredible heights, yet appeared to be soaking it in, all the same. And appreciating that others were along for the ride, too.

It was more than a moment. It was revealing.

We love Phil because we see ourselves in him. On the occasions that he’s fallen short (and unfortunately, there have been many), we’ve grieved with him. We’ve felt that sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs when Mickelson’s come close and lost. We’ve been hard on ourselves in just the same way he has – and that’s how we relate.

Phil isn’t Tiger Woods. Tiger routinely offers a long list of external reasons something went wrong. Phil blames himself. After last month’s runner-up finish in the U.S. Open (his sixth, by the way), he admitted that the loss really hurt and it would take time to get over it.

That’s something we don’t hear a whole lot from professional athletes, a “human side” that lets us in, for a brief moment, to what it’s like to fail in front of hundreds of millions.

Phil’s losses draw an audience. We “average-folks” are allowed to suffer in anonymity. Empathy isn’t often earned – or deserved – yet somehow this wealthy-guy golfer gets it.

Mickelson famously said “I am such an idiot” after blowing the lead on the 72nd hole of the 2006 U.S. Open at Winged Foot. It’s what we were all thinking at the time – but it was also something that most of us, if we were truly being honest, would have said in his place.

No, Phil, you’re not an idiot. You weren’t then – and now that you’ve finally captured golf’s oldest major championship, we all celebrate with you.

Now go get another for all of us.

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Spieth’s remarkable achievement

He’s only 19. That’s what they kept saying on Sunday, marveling that a man so young could perform so well on a stage so large.

For those who have been following Jordan Spieth’s brief career in the spotlight, we’re not really surprised that Spieth the golfer was in contention down the stretch at a PGA Tour event, or that he finally earned himself a spot in a playoff.

But to see Spieth the teenager’s performance in that five-hole playoff was astonishing, considering everything that was at stake for him (full Tour status, a birth in this week’s Open Championship, next year’s Masters, and eligibility for FedEx Cup points) – and the young man didn’t blink.

Spieth didn’t win the John Deere Classic as much as his competitors failed to take advantage of opportunities to seize the title themselves. Defending champion Zach Johnson couldn’t get close enough to the pin for legitimate birdie tries and Canadian David Hearn missed what seemed like a basket full of makeable putts.

Johnson’s and Hearn’s failures didn’t detract from Spieth’s victory, however. Spieth made crucial par-saving putts to keep himself in the playoff when it looked like his first Tour win would have to wait. As Tiger Woods has demonstrated many times over the years, keeping yourself in the game with par-saves can be just as important as awe-inspiring iron shots or draining eagle putts.

It was Spieth’s composure when it counted that was by far the most impressive part of his feat. He didn’t hit great shots, but he didn’t hit any truly bad ones either (though he was somewhat lucky on his final drive on the 18th hole). Johnson took himself out of the tournament with a wayward tee ball and a desperation recovery shot that subsequently found the water.

Hearn eliminated himself because he couldn’t find the bottom of the cup.

So what to make of Jordan Spieth, the first teenager to win on Tour since 1931? Is he the next player to challenge all the great records?

Who knows. The answers will come with time. Woods’ pursuit of those records has shown that nothing is certain, even for precocious young men who mature much before their time. We’ve seen “kids” younger and younger excelling in the world of sports, so it doesn’t seem so outlandish that a teenager could win on the PGA Tour.

But still, there’s something different about a kid just a little over a year removed from high school going out and competing on the world’s greatest golf Tour.

And not just competing – winning.

The LPGA has demonstrated that teenagers who grow-up fast can reach the top quickly. Why should the men be any different?

Whatever the take, it sure is refreshing to see a young man do well in a sport that allows the game’s legends to walk right alongside him. Lest we forget, 63-year-old Tom Watson competed admirably just a week before at the Greenbrier Classic. Watson didn’t win, but I doubt anyone would consider it a miracle if he did.

And how about 40-something Phil Mickelson winning in Scotland on the same day?

Mickelson’s game appears to be as fresh as ever leading into the Open Championship. Can he pull off a win in the one major where many have said he was just too undisciplined and erratic to compete?

We’ll learn this week. But no one would be all that shocked to see Jordan Spieth – or Tom Watson – do well either.

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Tiger fans — I don’t get ’em

“Do you think Tiger Woods is going to regain his form and dominate like he did before?”

“I hope not.”

The question belongs to me, the answer is attributed to an anonymous source whose name I won’t reveal without permission – but whose sentiments are not exactly rare in my experience.

Two and a half years removed from Tiger’s famous late-night, never-fully-explained fall from grace, he remains a subject of intense interest, and some controversy. Golf skills aside – and the endless deliberations over his golf swing – Tiger doesn’t appear to be much different now than he did before his very-public personal unraveling.

But things are different with lots of people I’ve talked to. I’ll candidly admit that I’ve never been a fan of Woods because of his spoiled brat on-course behavior, but I’ve got to say – the re-adoration that many appear to be feeling for the guy is puzzling to say the least.

The roars that accompanied Woods in his second post- collapse Tour victory at the Memorial were reminiscent of the “old” Tiger, and so were the slobbery statements emanating from the TV commentators who witnessed Woods’ Sunday charge. Woods holds the Tour “hostage” in the sense that so much of its media generated revenue is tied to the man, but MUST we endure this senseless adulation again?

See the anonymous fan’s statement above. Most of the golf enthusiasts I know can’t stand Tiger Woods, and it’s not because they’re intolerant of his ethnic heritage or unforgiving (or un-accepting) of his personal history. No one is perfect, and I’ve always found that people are usually open to sinners who repent.

The difference is, Woods has repented – but he hasn’t changed.

Who knows whether he’s still traveling the world and sending emissaries to round up girls. It doesn’t matter, either.  Despite promises that he would do better between the ropes and in front of the microphone – after his epiphany and months of counseling – he still swears, still scowls and still has the same disrespect for the game and fans that he’s always had.

He ain’t no Phil Mickelson.

Yet some people can’t get enough of Tiger’s drool. Throw the CBS folks in there with him (though I like all of them and they do a fantastic job, they need to stop portraying Woods as superman – he’s not). Woods’ galleries are as large as ever, and they still roar at every Woods shot.

Why, I ask?

Is being great at golf enough to allow you to put aside your better instincts in assessing this guy as a jerk? Can you like someone you don’t respect?

Woods should be working as hard on his personality as he is on his golf swing, then maybe he’d be able to muffle some of his cussing and otherwise atrocious public persona. Why do people still get into this?

I don’t get it.

In the meantime, I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied in being a member of the anti-Tiger fan club, which includes most of the people I know – and we’ll all just have to hold our stomachs while the pro-Tiger folks get their jollies off of scowls, glares, whining and a host of fantastic golf shots.

Is it enough? Not for me, man.

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Seeking rosier outlook for golf

I was standing at the gas pump the other day and noticed that gas prices have dropped by over fifty cents since their peak a while back, to a low, low $3.41.  I noted that even with the price dip, it was still over $50 to fill the tank, and a tank of gas for me lasts about a week.

We have two cars that we use regularly, so at double that amount, we spend a minimum of about $450 a month on gas alone – just for the privilege of driving to work and the store, the kids to their activities and of course, church on Sunday.

My daughter also noted (strange how such keen observations can come from the young) that the price for chicken tacos at Chipotle went up 35 cents since our last visit — and for those who are paying attention, all the prices at the supermarket are creeping up in a similar fashion.  In the economic sense, that’s called inflation – for the family budget, that means fewer dollars to spend on things we really enjoy, instead of just needing to survive.

How does this translate to golf?  I’ve seen a lot fewer full foursomes at the local courses recently, and it’s rarely difficult to find a tee time at semi-private and upscale public access courses anymore.  Munis seem busier than ever – perhaps they’re absorbing the overflow from the pricier courses with empty fairways.

But the sad state of the economy is definitely trickling down to golf – and it seems obvious that the game is hurting.  I talked to a gentleman who works at a well-known (and respected) resort recently, and he said “our members are keeping us going, because the public traffic isn’t nearly what it used to be.”

But is it because of money alone?

Many a golf architect has mentioned that the problems go much deeper than that – the game’s too difficult to learn, too expensive, takes too much time, and there’s simply a glut of golf courses to choose from.  I haven’t checked lately, but those courses tied to new housing developments have to be suffering the most, because buying a new home is an awfully tough proposition when there’s little money for a down payment and lending criteria (by force of necessity) have been tightened considerably.

If the homes aren’t being sold, the capital invested in the golf course weighs down the owners just that much more.  Golf is a draw to bring people in, but with a healthy number of vacant homes (not to mention foreclosures), golf communities have to compete with the rest of the market for buyers.

Even here in the nation’s capital region, the trend is unmistakable – and with the overwhelming federal government presence, this area is as insulated from the recession as any in the country.  Public courses are sparsely populated and private clubs are even opening up to limited public play just to stay open.

Golf can still be the escape that it’s always been, and there’s nothing quite like the feeling of seeing your ball land near the pin.  But without time and money to practice (and/or take lessons), those moments come dear in today’s world, because they’re too far in between.

It’s hard not to be pessimistic with all of these factors coming together.  And it’s sad to see that the state of the game can be surmised just by pumping gas – but if there is someone out there with a rosier picture, please fill us in.

We can use a little good news.

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Nice guys sometimes do finish first

Watching 44-year-old Steve Stricker win the Memorial a week ago was worth watching, not only for the entertainment value that virtually all PGA events provide (and Jack Nicklaus’ commentary didn’t hurt), but also because we were witnessing one of the game’s true “good guys” succeed. Far be it from me to say, but seeing Stricker shake Nicklaus’s hand after finishing up on 18 brought a real case of the warm fuzzies.

Contrast that scene in Ohio with the over-the-top exceedingly contrived circus that is the NBA Finals, and you’ve come to realize that “bad boys” aren’t always the ones who deserve accolades and attention. The Miami Heat’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh probably wouldn’t qualify as “bad boys” in the sense that they’ve frequented police blotters or are known for gross transgressions to traditional American culture, but there’s an element that sees big-time basketball as just an extension of the American pop scene — and that’s just not found in golf. The loud music, the even louder public address systems (and announcers), the tattoos, the in-your-face advertising – it’s just gotten too much.

For a guy who grew up watching the great Lakers/Celtics duels in the 80’s, today’s NBA just ain’t the same.

Switching back to the gentle Steve Stricker, here’s a guy who sank to the depths of his professional sport just a few years ago — and now he’s on top of the American contingent in the world rankings (having reached the lofty #4 slot after his win on Sunday). Maybe it’s because we all identify with what it’s like to truly struggle with something, but I doubt there were many golf fans who were rooting against Stricker on Sunday – and it’s not because he’s dramatic or overpowering, like so many of golf’s other leading personalities.

People like Stricker because he’s boring.

Perhaps boring is the wrong word – he’s pleasantly unruffled (how’s that for an exercise in vocabulary?). Stricker doesn’t get real high when he succeeds (as his three eagles within the span of a few holes the other day would indicate) or too low when he’s in trouble. He’s got a demeanor that all of us wish we could emulate on the golf course, and in life.

CBS’s announcers went out of their way to highlight the fact that Stricker is seen as the all-around “good guy” on Tour, and even Nicklaus emphasized how “nice” Stricker has come across as a member of the Presidents Cup teams that the legend has captained.

What, no fist pumps, massive galleries, personal scandals or other colorful adjectives to describe Stricker? Maybe the most ‘striking’ thing about Stricker was the way the TV screen distorted his striped shirt – almost made it sparkle.

It’s a tribute to the game that a good, wholesome family man who still lives in a cold climate (to be near family) can still climb to the top that is truly remarkable about Steve Stricker. He’s the guy who lives next door, the guy who’s waiting to join your group on the first tee and the guy behind the counter at the local club, all in one.

And it’s almost like the fact that he doesn’t get noticed is the most distinguishing thing about him. He’s professional, he’s steady, and he’s a good guy.  In my book, that makes him fun to watch, and notable.

One thing’s for sure: golf could use a lot more Steve Strickers.

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