#AskAlan: Is Tiger Woods being over-hyped entering 2020?

January 24, 2020

In this installment of the #AskAlan mailbag, GOLF senior writer Alan Shipnuck fields questions about the Tiger’s 2020 debut, Lee Westwood turning back the clock and the proper design for Augusta National’s 13th hole. 

Will beefed up Bryson be inside top 50 OWGR at the end of the season? #askalan – @ullijohns

No, and, alas, he won’t be in top 50 in Fortnite, either.

What’s the right distance for 13 at Augusta? – @cpfolds

Last year it played at 510 yards, which is obviously too short. There needs to be much more risk built into the second shot, which means longer clubs, not the 8-irons we’re increasingly seeing. But it has to remain tantalizingly in reach, tempting players with the chance at glory. So let’s err on the side of caution at move it to 550 yards, knowing Augusta National has more room to make it longer if need be.

#AskAlan Is Tiger being overhyped going into ’20? I think he is. – @TheTexasSteve

Of course he is! He’s Tiger F’ing Woods. He was overhyped in the mid-90s and has done nothing since that would diminish the hyperbole. At this point you can’t fight it: every time Tiger tees it up Fanboy Media will hyperventilate over every twitch and Old Man Media will closely scrutinize his play. To quote one of the great philosophers: it is what it is. But Woods’ play at the Presidents Cup was a reminder that he is still the best golfer in the world. If his body feels right and the course setup is favorable he can win anytime, anywhere. How can we not be excited about this wondrous final act to an incomparable career?

Which would you rather see…. Tiger win #83 at Torrey Pines where he’s had so much success and put on a legendary performance in the ’08 U.S. Open OR Tiger come full-circle and win #83 at Riviera where he made his PGA Tour debut at 16 years old? #AskAlan – @djlettieri

I’ll take Riv, where it all began, and also because it’s such an iconic golf course and Tiger’s career will somehow feel incomplete if he never wins at Hogan’s Alley.

Realize you were just a teen when Jack won his last major, but what is your favorite memory of him, on or off the course? – @rob4golf

Watching the Masters telecast with him last year was a blast, and I’ve been lucky to have a few other long sit-down interviews with Jack, who is not only a good talker and great thinker but so generous in his appreciation for scribes; he ends most interviews by saying,”I hope you got what you need” — and he means it. But one moment I think about a lot is a quick exchange we had at the 2000 U.S. Open. He was talking about putting and I asked him if, during his heyday, when he faced a longish birdie putt he was trying to make it or just cozy it down for an easy two-putt. He looked at me incredulously and said,”I always tried to make it. I still do.” He went on to say that he has so much confidence in his short putting he was never afraid of the comebacker. Then he dropped this bomb: “I used to go the entire West Coast swing without a 3-putt.” Of course this is impossible on the soft, winter greens of the seaside courses and then the slick surfaces in the desert. But Jack meant it! In his mind he really never missed a putt. That insight has always stuck with me: the best players are so good in part because they think they’re infallible.

As for a favorite on-course moment, it’s definitely the 1998 Masters. On Sunday, Big Jack started off with a birdie binge to improbably thrust himself into contention, at the age of 58. I was standing right behind the 7th green when he flagged his approach shot. It was one of the loudest roars I’ve ever heard on a golf course. Jack’s playing partner Ernie Els was just laughing and shaking his head. I had a perfect view when Nicklaus made the birdie putt … and winked at Ernie. What a legend.

Dear Alan, will you finally, finally admit that Lee Westwood was & still *IS* the BPNTWAM? Up to #29 in the world, two impressive wins in the last 14 months & a dark horse for Augusta… surely qualifies him as an ‘active player’ regardless of his age!? – @mocyling

It’s an intriguing question. I have long maintained that a key criteria to being considered the Best Player Never To Have Won A Major is the sense that said player is on the verge of that tantalizing breakthrough. Otherwise, you’d have a few guys holding that title for years and years after their primes. In the last five years, Westwood has contended at only one major, the ’16 Masters, where a pitch-in for eagle on 15 on Sunday put him in the thick of things … and he promptly 3-willied the 16th hole to eject himself. Westy’s ball striking has always been world-class but an inability to hole the key putts (think of the 72nd hole 3-putt at Turnberry) has been killer at the majors. Given his recent play, and lack of consensus for who currently holds this dreaded title, Westwood now belongs in the BPNTHWAM discussion. But I can’t make him the only one because is there any reason to believe his breakthrough is coming now, as opposed to any of the previous three decades during which he won a tournament?

Let’s give Westbrook some encouragement!!! Can he (finally) win The Open Championship??? (Reminds me of the excitement in seeing Darren Clarke’s win.) – @RLMGrandpa

Well, this is the counterpoint: if Darren Clarke can rise from the abyss and win a major, literally any fortysomething of a certain standard has a chance. It’s kismet that the Open is returning to Royal St. George’s, the site of Clarke’s improbable victory. Given the longstanding friendship between Clarke and Westwood, the golf gods are certainly on notice.

Hello friend, Lee Westwood has 44 professional wins … 2 of them on the PGA tour. IJP has 17 professional wins… and 1 on the PGA tour.  Does this speak more to the level of talent on the PGA Tour, the European Tour, or something else???  Would these doods just have been good pros in the U.S.? – @FakePoulter

And let us not forget Colin Montgomerie’s oh-fer-America in his, ahem, Hall of Fame career. Westwood is a particularly interesting case because he broke through with a win in New Orleans in 1998, when he was only 25, during a season in which he won six other times around the world. It was the perfect moment to commit to the PGA Tour and see how deep he could take it but Westwood never did, basically settling into a schedule in which he’d play the majors and WGCs and make a few other cameos Stateside. He is a very English lad and simply felt more comfortable being at home and enjoying the camaraderies of the European Tour. Marriage/kids kept him over there and it would be a dozen years until Westwood won again in the U.S., in Memphis. In the mid-aughts, as his marriage was ending, Westwood set up a homebase in South Florida for three seasons, coinciding with a long winless streak. He’s remains at two PGA Tour wins in 236 PGA Tour starts, though in fairness they’re heavily weighted to the best tournaments. There is zero doubt the fields on the PGA Tour are much deeper than in Europe, and they should be: the feeder systems include the KFT, LAT, Canadian Tour, PGA Tour China, NCAA and AJGA! If Westy and Monty had played full-time in the U.S. they both would have enjoyed very good careers … but they’d definitely have significantly fewer worldwide wins.

Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Tiger has won the Tour Championship, The ZOZO Championship, The Masters, moved back into the top ten in the OWGR and also captained the winning Presidents Cup team. Will you be voting for President Trump in November? #MTGA – @BobEstesPGA

A better question for all the die-hard Republicans on Tour: would you vote for Elizabeth Warren if it guaranteed Tiger would win four more majors, thus securing your long-term personal financial interests? I honestly don’t know how the Tour rank-and-file would vote on this.

It has to be asked: Would you cut off your arm for a hole-in-one? #AskAlan – @misterdomer

I won’t have to — when I finally jar one my poor arm is going to fall off from me excessively patting myself on the back.