My good friend Michael Rosenberg wrote something last week that struck me as wrong, and I could not quite figure out why. He was writing about Tiger Woods, and it began with how sick he is of reporters asking Tiger about his personal life. I agree entirely with that. But then Michael wrote this:
I have no idea how Woods will play this week. But I do believe two things:
1. The people who write him off are dead wrong.
2. Those people are doing him a favor.
Something about this just plinked off-key for me ... but I wasn't quite sure why. At first, I thought my disagreement was with his No. 2 statement: That people who are writing off Tiger Woods are doing him a favor. I don't see that at all.
Here's why: I've long thought that Tiger Woods (unlike many great athletes) does not feed off of being UNDERESTIMATED, but quite the opposite he feeds off of being OVERESTIMATED. He has spent his entire golfing life building up an aura of invincibility see his name come up on the leaderboard and cower in fear. When Woods is in the lead, golfers try too hard to pull off shots that are not in their bags because they know they KNOW that he won't give it up. That's his game. Rattle them. Intimidate them. Make them fear him. I have no idea how Woods would handle being underestimated, and nobody else does, either, but I don't think it fits him at all. Tiger Woods is a frontrunner, the best in the history of golf. Every major championship he has ever won all 14 of them he won from the lead. He is Goliath. He has never shown even the slightest inclination for becoming David or, anyway, I haven't seen it. I don't think he's suited for a slingshot.
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it wasn't Michael's second point that rubbed me wrong. No. It was No. 1. He wrote: "The people who write him off are dead wrong."
Look: Tiger Woods, by his standards, has played stunningly mediocre golf this year after taking off a few months to deal with his personal issues. He has not won a tournament entering the British Open he was zero-for-six. This might not sound like much, but Tiger Woods only plays in the tournaments he expects to win. This year marks the first time since 1998 that he has not won one of his first six tournaments of the year.
Anyway, it wasn't just that he didn't win, but that he never came close to winning. He missed the cut in Charlotte, at one of his favorite events. He withdrew from the Players Championship with some sort of neck thing that he has barely mentioned since. He finished an uninspired 19th at Jack Nicklaus' tournament in Columbus. He played stunningly bad and unfocused golf in finishing 46th as defending champ of the AT&T National.
Yes, people will point out that he finished fourth at both the Masters and the U.S. Open, and he did nobody suggests that Tiger Woods will turn into a 12-handicapper. But even those fourth-place finishes said something was wrong ... he was never really a Sunday threat to win either tournament, even though Augusta National and Pebble Beach are two of his favorite golf courses, places he was meant to dominate. Even two or three years ago, people pointed to 2010 as the year for a potential Tiger Woods grand slam because of those golf courses. Finishing fourth at Augusta (where he has won four times and set the course record) and Pebble Beach (where he won the 2000 U.S. Open by 15 shots) is hardly a sign that Tiger Woods is playing well enough.
Anyway, despite all this, he was STILL the prohibitive favorite to win the British Open. He was the betting favorite. He was the analysts' favorite. Even the people who thought that Tiger Woods was not going to win figured that he would contend (that was my feeling), and even those who thought he would not contend (if you could find any of them) didn't seem too sure of themselves. When I ran a poll a couple of weeks ago asking readers if Tiger Woods would break Nicklaus' record for most majors (he still has to win FIVE MORE majors, which is more than Phil Mickelson has won in his career), barely 3 percent checked "Definitely not." And I suspect that number would be even lower if people had to stake their reputations on it.
No, I don't think there is almost anyone out there who is writing off Tiger Woods. And frankly ... there's good reason to write him off. This may sound cruel but I actually mean it as the opposite of cruel: More people SHOULD be writing off Tiger Woods.