Clay Buchholz of my beloved Boston Red Sox threw major league baseball’s last no-hitter. While the fans in Fenway Park loved every minute of it, every Baltimore Oriole he faced on that September evening wanted to be the guy who broke it up with a hit. No athlete wants to be embarrassed.
Tiger Woods’s streak of five consecutive PGA Tour wins was like a no-hitter. He was in complete control, and every player competing against him wanted to be the man who broke the streak.
I spoke with Geoff Ogilvy, the winner of the WGC-CA Championship, a few weeks ago at Whisper Rock Golf Club in Scottsdale. During our conversation, he paid kudos to Tiger’s run and said he admired how well Woods had been playing. But Ogilvy also said he wanted to rise to the challenge. He wanted to be the guy who ended Tiger’s streak, so I am not surprised that he won at Doral.
Ogilvy had not won a PGA Tour event since his U.S. Open victory at Winged Foot in 2006. He never really got the credit he deserved for that win, and I suspect that it bothered him to some degree. In most people’s minds, Phil Mickelson lost more than Ogilvy won.
So why had the Australian failed to win since his U.S. Open triumph? It’s important to realize that Ogilvy and his wife, Juli, have two children under the age of 2, and he’s said that it is only within the last few months that everyone has been sleeping through the night. Now that his personal life is settling into place, he can focus more on his game. I think anyone who has kids can relate.
I’m not completely sure that Ogilvy himself realizes just how good he is. His swing has always been solid, but over the last few years his attitude has gotten a lot better. His self-talk a few years ago was often unprintable. He beat himself up a lot. But today he’s more in control and positive. The ability to roll with the punches is a helpful attribute when you’re playing tough courses and the pressure is building.
In my opinion there is only one thing holding Geoff Ogilvy back — his willingness to accept all the baggage that goes with getting near the top of the mountain. He doesn’t seek the limelight, and you have to enjoy the limelight a little if you want to be the best. Davis Love didn’t like it, and neither did Fred Couples or David Duval. Greg Norman loved it. Tiger deals with it. Ogilvy just needs to learn how to live with it.
Winning at Doral was not only big because it broke Tiger’s streak, but also because Ogilvy will once again be mentioned in the same breath as the other great players in the game. He has won three significant events. To solidify his place among the game’s elite he needs to win another major, or the Players. When he does that, golf fans will recognize just how good he is.
Woods is getting scarier
This just-concluded winning streak was the second extended run of victories in Tiger Woods’s professional career. He won seven-straight PGA Tour events starting with the 2006 British Open at Royal Liverpool and ending with the 2007 Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines. Both of those streaks would be a nice career for most players.
But for those pursuing Woods, the scary truth is that he’s now playing at a higher level than ever before. Tiger has better command, and more shots, than he did in 2000 or 2001. He has better command of his emotions, better course-management skills, and his swing is arguably the best it’s ever been.
The one aspect of Woods’s game that did not get enough credit during his recent winning streak is his ability to read greens. Lots of pundits talked about his putting stroke, which is wonderful, but Tiger reads greens better than any player on Tour. I don’t care how good your stroke is, you have to be able to see the breaks if you want to make putts. Even if you used Dave Pelz’s putting robot, Perfy, you still couldn’t make as many puts as Tiger. While Jim MacKay and Phil Mickelson scrutinize every inch of Phil’s putts, Woods never gets help from Steve Williams. It’s amazing.
Woods’s detractors (if there are any out there) might quibble that he doesn’t hit a lot of fairways off the tee. But in my opinion those people are just looking for something to criticize. You don’t get bonus points for hitting fairways or greens in regulation. On Tour, it’s all about your score through 72 holes. Tiger’s scoring average right now is 67.3; the PGA Tour average is 71.18. Enough said.
After Tiger Woods has won his 19th major championship and has 83 PGA Tour wins, he’ll officially become the greatest player the game has ever known. You’ve got to respect Jack Nicklaus and Sam Snead’s records, but barring a major injury or a dwindling level of enthusiasm, Woods could win 40 majors and 150 tournaments by the times he’s through!
Parting Shot: Where’s the consistency?
As we start the run up to the Masters, it is worth noting the relative inconsistency shown by some of the game’s biggest stars.
• Ernie Els won the Honda Classic, his first victory in the United States since the 2004 Memorial. However, the Big Easy missed the cut the very next week at the PODS Championship and finished 75th at Doral.
• Phil Mickelson lost in a playoff to J.B. Holmes at the FBR Open, then missed the cut the following week at Pebble Beach. Lefty bounced back a week later and won at Riviera.
• Vijay Singh blew a lead and then lost in a playoff to Steve Lowery at Pebble Beach a week after missing the cut at the FBR Open. However, he’s been in the top five in the last three events he’s played.
While all of that was going on, Tiger extended his consecutive-cut streak to a Tour-leading 27. His last missed cut was at Winged Foot.
Tiger doesn’t play as often as many Tour stars, and while it would be bad for TV and not popular with fans, maybe Singh, Els, Mickelson and the game’s other elite players should follow Tiger’s lead and play less often. They need to be rested, ready and motivated when the majors come around.
Woods has developed a schedule that clearly works for him and lets him play at his best. Other players need to look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are doing the same thing.