Tiger Now Versus Tiger Then: Head Games Make the Difference
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From 1997 to 2008, when Tiger Woods crept up a leaderboard, others started falling back.
They were sure he could advance and stomp on them.
He was sure he could advance and stomp on them.
And they knew he knew. But now the fear is significantly lessened, if not gone altogether.
For that reason, the biggest obstacle Woods has to face to get to 19 majors and 83 victories may not be his game and the golf courses (he can overpower nearly any course he plays) but recapturing the ability to get into the heads of all the players in the field. He needs them to flip their mental switches to "off" when he’s in contention.
He needs their collective subconscious minds to be afraid of Tiger Woods.
The only way he can do that is by playing his way to victory convincingly. If he had been able to maintain or increase the six-stroke lead he had after 54 holes at Torrey Pines in the Farmers Insurance Open, then Woods would be in every golfer’s head already.
He would be like Jack Nicklaus in his prime. It was worth a couple of strokes over his competitors when Nicklaus showed up on the tee.
While Woods has regained his game in stages following the lengthy recovery from knee surgery, he has not yet been able to get to his goal of being better than he was pre-2008 US Open. That doesn’t mean he won’t.
But until he does, the fear others had of being run over by Woods has vanished.
Friday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Tiger Woods advanced, but the field did not falter. Justin Rose, playing with Woods, is still on top. He’s not yet showing major signs of weakness.
Woods shot a respectable, but not stellar, 70. Uncharacteristically, he bogeyed the last three holes.
Inexcusable. He would agree.
“I’ve made my share of mistakes on the few holes the last couple of days, and I need to clean that up,” Woods said.
However, Woods demonstrated signs of the intimidator we know from tournaments past.
He made putts that meant something, like the 11-footer at the first for birdie or the eight-footer at six for eagle.
But on the other hand, he can’t miss six-inchers like he did at the second, hit in the water like he did at the third or make bogey on the final three holes—at least not when he’s playing with the tournament leader.
That kind of inconsistent play gives Justin Rose hope and belief that he can topple Woods.
One gauge of the quality of a golfer is if he beats the people in his group. Usually, it’s phrased as "He beats everybody he plays with."
Tiger Woods usually beats everybody he plays with, but Thursday Justin Rose played four shots better. Friday they tied, and Woods lost ground on the overall leaderboard.
Rose gained confidence.
“There’s no doubt you always sense his presence,” Justin Rose said. “When you’re playing with him, you can almost guarantee that he’ll be in the mix on Sunday at some point…If you can keep your nose in front of him you’re probably signed for that right now and take your chances.”
Tiger Woods has to turn that situation around in the weeks and months ahead. He needs to return to beating the guys he plays with.
Kathy Bissell is a golf writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand or from official interview materials from the USGA, PGA Tour or PGA of America.
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