I’m pulling for Brendan Jones in the Match Play today. Not that it’s in my financial interests. The golf economy needs a big Tiger Woods week, and my 401(k) is now worth about as much as a ShamWow.
But I love an underdog, and this journeyman Aussie makes Francis Ouimet look like Apollo Creed. Rumor has it, Jones has never heard of himself. You want pressure? At this event, Phil Mickelson said, “Every match feels like a Sunday.” Which means Jones’ date with You Know Who will feel like a major-championship Sunday, minus the rippled red shirt.
So Brendan, if you read this, some advice. You know about Tiger’s game — the neck-craning drives, the spirit-crushing putts — but you may not know about his games. Beware. He’s a cunning master of the art of gamesmanship.
Don’t get me wrong. Tiger’s a true sportsman. He would never use change-jangling, throat-clearing ploys. What Woods does is subtle, subversive, invisible, and probably unconscious. Call it meta-gamesmanship. Case in point:
In the final round of the 2007 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, Woods was on the first tee with Stephen Ames, who began the day three shots behind Tiger. The pair had yet to greet each other. Ames smiled at a well-wisher. Tiger waited. Ames adjusted his cap. Tiger waited. Ames then crouched into an awkward position to unzip his golf bag, turning his back to his opponent. Tiger pounced.
“Good luck,” Woods said, hand extended.
Apparently caught off-guard, Ames looked up. Tiger’s sheer physicality towered over him, reminding the Canadian (who Tiger had demolished 9-and-8 at the 2006 Match Play) who the dominant male was. Ames awkwardly stood and shook hands. His tee shot found a forest, he began the day bogey-bogey, and he shot 76. But he was effectively finished — ankles-deep in the anaconda — before he put his ball on the peg.
Tiger made a similar first-tee display of dominance in last year’s U.S. Open playoff against Rocco Mediate. Before the two men drew numbers out of the U.S. Open trophy to decide honors, Rocco said, “I’ll let the No.1 guy choose first.” Tiger placed his big arm around Rocco’s shoulders, nudged him forward, and said, “No, you choose.” Rocco chose.
Even Tiger’s fist-pumps have a greater purpose. “His gestures display power,” body-language expert Jan Hargrave told Golf Magazine writer Kevin Cook. “The more space a person uses, the more powerful he appears.” CBS commentator David Feherty has seen his share of Tiger’s fist pumps. He said, “It tells the other guy, ‘Yeah, this is what I do in the clutch. If you wanna beat me, you’ll have to be at least as good.’ ”
So Brendan, beware of Tiger’s mind games. He’ll likely expect you to give away holes early on, due to nerves. Your best bet is to ignore him. Don’t even look at him.
After giving him a confident, eyeball-to-eyeball handshake, that is.
Additional reporting by Paul Mahoney