Tiger Stalks 15th Major, But History Tells a Story

CB MaxwellContributor IApril 7, 2009

As we enter into what many consider the "holy week" of golf, the Masters at Augusta National, it is fitting that it will coincide with Easter Week. 

In looking at what is revealed during this week, I found this quote from Ben Hogan, who won here twice (1951, 1953). 

He said: "Frequently, you know, what looks like a fairly good golf swing falls apart in competition...the harsh light of competition reveals that a swing is only superficially correct...It can't stand up day after day. A correct swing will. In fact, the greater the pressure you put on it, the better your swing should function, if it is honestly sound." 

Adding intrigue to this week, of course is the return of Greg Norman to the fabled grounds. 

"I just want to make sure that everybody manages their expectations, and I manage my expectations going into this event," he said. "[Because of the British Open] all these things have been reignited.  So, it's going to be a very disciplined approach from my perspective to walk in there and walk to the first tee on Thursday and go, 'hell, I'm just here to have fun'."  

It will be interesting to see if he "has fun."  I can't imagine him making his way around Amen Corner and not being transported back in time to his greatest collapse. 

Norman began playing at Augusta National in 1981 and has appeared 22 times. 

It was in 1996, 13 years ago, that we all watched in agony as he blew a 6-shot lead to his friend, Nick Faldo. 

In fact, Nick Price (his best friend on Tour), who was already in the clubhouse, said, "I can't stand to watch," after watching Norman three putt on 11 to go even and went to his car looking pale.

Perhaps that is enough time to "heal all wounds."  But, just as sure as I am sitting here, we will get to review that loss many times this week, and I think unfairly.  Yet, it is too compelling a story to ignore. 

His teacher David Leadbetter said, "His routine is so different," spending six or seven seconds longer over each shot, thinking back to Hogan's comments...he was in his head, not his body.

In a April 22, 1996 story, Rick Reilly of Sports Illustrated put it this way:

"The last 20 minutes were unlike any seen in the previous 59 Masters.

"Norman became a kind of dead man walking, four shots behind and all his dreams drowning in Augusta National ponds behind him.  Spectators actually looked down, hoping not to make eye contact, as Norman passed among them on his way to the 18th tee.

"At the finish, as Faldo made a meaningless 15-foot birdie putt, the champion was unsure how to handle it. He barely raised his hands above his head, and he didn't yell or dance. 

"He looked like a man in the back of church who had won a clandestine hand of gin. After he finally took the accomplice ball out of the cup, he turned to Norman, hugged him long and hard and said, 'I don't know what to say. I just want to give you a hug. I feel horrible about what happened. I'm so sorry.' 

"Both men teared up."

Fast forward to 1997, the year of the Tiger that changed the "face" of golf forever. 

Forget that Tiger Woods was only 21 years old and had stunned the old guard with his early reckless prowess. 

Forget that he left Stanford University early and turned professional and didn't even have the courtesy to endure Q School, but got a sponsor's exemption (NIKE and $40 million) and early wins in his first three months on Tour.

Forget the resentment that many expressed when during his press conferences, Tiger referred to his "A" game or "B" game and still whipped long time professionals.  Not to mention, he was worth $40 million without taking a professional shot!

No, what was stunning that he was a "man of many colors."  One-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Thai, one-quarter African American, one-eighth Native American, and one-eighth Dutch.  WOW, nice combination. 

His famed father, Earl, had trained him in the inner mind of a Green Beret.  His mother had trained him on the inner mind of Buddism. 

He had finished an Amateur career winning three consecutive USGA Amateur titles.

It is unlikely that the field of veterans believed that he would contend at one of the most difficult golf courses ever built.  Add that to the pressure of his first major and he was barely 21 years old, but what they didn't realize that his attack of Augusta National in some instances reduced it to a pitch and putt.

When it was all said and done on Sunday in Augusta, he humiliated the world's best golfers, shot 18-under-par 70-66-65-69-270 (the lowest score in tournament history) and won the Masters by a preposterous 12 shots.

It was the soundest whipping in a major last century and second only to Old Tom Morris's 13-shot triumph in the 1862 British Open. 

Let me remind you that Ben Hogan won with a score of 280 in 1951 and again in 1953 at 274.  Let that be a testament to Hogan's prowess, because both those victories were late in his career after a terrible auto accident that left him barely able to walk.

At 6'2" and 155 pounds, (he is still 6'2" but has bulked up to 185 and looks like a defensive back now, WITHOUT STEROIDS) the longest club he hit into a par-4 all week was a seven iron.

On each of the first two days he hit a wedge into the 500-yard, par-5, 15th hole—for his second shot. 

Said Jesper Parnevik, who finished 19 shots back, "Unless they build Tiger tees about 50 yards back, he's going to win the next 20 of these." 

Of course, they have that and more, the only problem being they ALL have to play from the "Tiger Tees."

Fast forward to 2009, after an 8-month layoff, he enters his third event having played only SIX competitive rounds of golf, 2 match play (1 win, 1 loss) and a credible ninth place finish at Doral, where he couldn't sink a putt. 

At Bay Hill, Arnie's place, where last year he sank an incredible downhill 25 foot slinking putt for a dramatic win, and Tiger came back from a five-shot deficit to get even on the 18th hole with Sean O'Hair—he never had a prayer—and sinks another birdie putt (only 15 footer, uphill) in the dwindling light to make the claim that he is ready for Augusta.

But Tiger won't be alone in the media spotlight.

Johnny Miller, in last week's telecast, said the most interesting thing this week is the entries of three teenagers all younger than Tiger when he won his first major. 

He mentioned Rory McIlroy from Northern Ireland, US Amateur champion Danny Lee, 19 from New Zealand, and 17-year-old Ryo Ishikawa from Japan who has two wins on the Japanese Tour. 

Of the three, he liked what he saw in Lee's game and attitude, saying he "liked the look" of Lee and he was his "dark horse" in the field to win The Masters at Augusta National. 

Now THAT would be a story...but the smart money, as always, has to be on Tiger.

Also, as I close, let us not forget the unforgettable victory by the Golden Bear, Jack Nicklaus at age 46, (1986) who regained the magic coming down the stretch of Amen Corner.

Picture perfect, He put claim to his last major, number 18 (that Tiger is chasing), to close the deal at Augusta and made all us ol' guys rejoice, that we can still play this game.


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