10 Lessons Rory McIlroy Should Take from Tiger Woods' Slump in Majors
Tiger Woods hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. At the time, the golfer, Woods’ peers and golf fans all certainly assumed that by November 2012 Tiger would have several more major championships.
However, Woods is still stuck on 14 majors.
Rory McIlroy won the 2012 PGA Championship and is poised for additional majors in the upcoming year. Although the North Irish golfer is on the rise now, given his performance in the final major of the year and the FedEx Cup, he did have a spell of bad form from the Masters through the WCG Bridgestone Invitational.
The previous confirms the obvious: McIlroy, like all golfers, isn’t immune to the occasional slump.
With this in mind, here are 10 lessons Rory can take from Tiger’s slump in the majors.
Beware the Temptations of Success
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When Tiger Woods made his public act of contrition, he said temptations were everywhere and that he felt entitled to indulge himself.
By all appearances, Rory McIlroy is devoted to his girlfriend, tennis star Carolyn Wozniacki, and isn’t engaged in a systematic regimen of infidelity. It wasn’t so long ago, though, that Tiger Woods was perceived to be an ideal husband and father.
Any moral judgment is beside the point. The more Tiger became devoted to the nightlife and the nocturnal rendezvous, the less focused on golf he inevitably became. Additionally, Woods set the ticking time bomb of the revelation of his transgressions, the explosion of which has effectively derailed his career.
If Tiger Woods Can Slump in Majors, Anyone Can
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Tiger Woods won eight majors in his first six years on tour. Beyond this, Woods was programmed for success in golf’s most significant tournaments. Jack Nicklaus aside, no other golfer has been so made for major tournament victories. Prior to 2008, the notion that Woods would fail to win majors with regularity was entirely inconceivable.
Presently, Woods seems entirely unable to win a major. Historically, he has never won a major when trailing on Sunday. Since 2008, he hasn’t led a major after three rounds, meaning he hasn’t put himself into the position to win in the way he did prior to his U.S. Open victory at Torrey Pines.
The takeaway for Rory, here, is that if Tiger Woods, who won majors at a rate greater than any other golfer, can fail to contend in the events for a period of four years, anyone (including McIlroy) can.
To Win Majors with Regularity, Your House Must Be in Order
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To win multiple majors in a year, a golfer has to be nearly perfect in all aspects of planning, preparation and execution. Alex Tresniowski devotes an entire chapter to this in his (now rather ironically titled) book Tiger Virtues.
Rory would do well to remember this face and be vigilant in restoring balance and order in all aspects of his life; the negative example of what can come from a house in disarray is right there in front of him in the form of Tiger’s performance since 2008.
Confidence Is Key
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Nick Faldo has stated on multiple occasions that Tiger Woods’ seemingly inexhaustible well of self-confidence has run dry. Whether this is true or not, when a premier golf announcer questions the confidence of a premier golfer, there is likely an element of truth to the observations.
There was a time when opposing golfers, golf fans and Tiger Woods himself were certain that on Sunday at a major, a Tiger Woods victory was a foregone conclusion. If questioned directly, Woods would likely state that he is as confident as ever. However, something seems to have been lost.
Practice, preparation and gameplanning are useless if you don’t have the confidence that you’ll be able to execute. McIlroy would do well to remember what he surely already knows: Confidence is key.
Safeguard Your Physical and Mental Health
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When Tiger Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open, he was playing with two stress fractures in his leg and a damaged left knee. In the years since, he has had several injury problems. Whether his fitness contributed to (or in part caused) his ailments is a matter of debate, but it doesn’t seem that Woods did everything he could to safeguard his physical health and paid the price.
Tiger Woods’ arrogance and sense of exceptionalism served him well, for a while. However, these traits became problematic when Woods decided he was entitled to hedonistic indulgences, as well as major championships. Also, the psychological toll of the scandal (whether Woods is truly penitent or not) has likely been great.
Rory McIlroy would do well to protect his body and mind from harm, which Tiger Woods didn’t feel he had to.
It’s a Different Game on the Weekend in a Major
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At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods snapped his two-year PGA Tour winning streak. However, not only did Woods not win a major this year, he didn’t play particularly well on the weekend.
The wisdom here is the old truism that a different type of player wins a major. Rory should never become complacent with success in non-major events and slack on his preparation for majors; he ought to be ever mindful that the majors are an entirely different animal.
Expectation Is Everything
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Rory McIlroy ought to expect to win major championships. Every indication is that he does. Tiger Woods, historically, has expected to win every tournament he enters. A few times since the death of his father, his injuries and the scandal that embroiled him, it has seemed that Woods has not expected to win.
McIlroy must continue to expect to win each and every major. He must prepare as though winning is the only possibility, and he must state this expectation outright. Anything less than this would be entirely unacceptable from the top-ranked golfer in the world.
Ultimately, You Can’t Force It
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Although McIlroy must continue to expect to win majors, he can’t let his expectations, or his desire to win, undermine his ability to stay in the moment, detach from outcomes and execute his gameplan.
During his slump in the majors, Tiger Woods has seemed to be forcing the action. It seems to be a precarious balance between stoking the fires of the burning desire necessary for greatness and relaxing enough to perform at peak levels.
This is something McIlroy must be adept at, having risen so far so fast. However, the fact that Woods—the master of confidence and cool—seems to have allowed tension to creep into his swing will highlight the danger for Rory.
If You Are Expected to Win Majors and Don’t, You’ll Never Stop Hearing About It
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Tiger Woods has lost patience, on occasion, with reporters questioning him about his performance in majors and given comically short responses. During the periods in his career in which he has failed to win majors, Woods has faced harsh questions about his performance...although he has reserved his real ire for questions about Hank Haney's book.
The “what have you done for me lately” mentality of sports journalists and fans, as well as the haste with which the “slump” question is raised, make for a very frustrating atmosphere for the elite golfer who is underperforming.
At some point in his career, McIlroy will fail to win majors at the rate he is expected to. More often than not, the standard responses Tiger gives to these questions are a model for McIlroy. Additionally, McIlroy ought to expect that he will be assessed harshly and questioned often if he fails to achieve major glory with appropriate regularity.
The Nicklaus Approach and the Woods Approach
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Speaking broadly, amongst the two most prolific winners of major championships, there are distinct differences to their approaches to life as a professional golfer.
- Corporate athlete
- Golf first
- Devotion to fitness and “improvement”
- Golfer early, businessman later in career
- Family as foundational
- Minor refinements to a feel-based swing
McIlroy ought to consider the approaches of both individuals and determine which is optimal for him, mindful of what the ultimate end of the “Tiger Woods persona” was.