Well it's official. The sun still rises, the earth stays in orbit and life goes on even after Tiger Woods loses a major tournament when he has the lead on Sunday morning and he fails to win a major championship in a calendar year.
After closing out 14 major tournaments after leading after 54 holes, Woods lost a tournament. The loss was especially significant in that the loss occurred at the PGA Championship, the last Major event of the season, leaving Mr. Woods without a major for 2009.
Even more surprising to most casual golf fans was the fact that Woods lost to a relatively unknown golfer from South Korea, W.E. Yang. While there was much wailing and mashing of teeth after Tiger failed to win his 15th major of his career, the best thing that could have happened to golf occurred when W.E. Yang birdied the 18th hole to beat Tiger.
The loss was great for golf and I believe ultimately the loss will be good for Tiger in pushing him to try and go beyond 20 major championships.
Prior to Yang’s victory, most commentators and fans of the sport felt that if a player without a major on his resume was fortunate enough to be in the last group with Tiger on Sunday at a major, the tournament was over as it only a matter of time before Tiger distanced himself from the “competition.”
How could any mere mortal without a major championship really hope to stand up to the glare of Tiger for several grueling hours while simultaneously dueling with the greens of a championship course?
At the end of the day on Saturday, the only person that was given serious consideration of beating Tiger was Padraig Harrington. Harrington had the right pedigree to beat Tiger as he had several major championships on his mantel. Yang clearly was going to wilt playing with Tiger in the Chaska, Minnesota heat.
However, Yang didn’t wilt in the heat. Instead, Yang did the rest of the mere mortals a favor by showing the field how to beat Tiger. Yang played his game, he stayed calm and he didn’t succumb to the temptation of trying to do too much.
Yang was happy to write down par by taking what the course gave him and didn’t try to make something happen early by going for it when the shot was not there.
While Tiger clearly helped Yang by missing early birdie putts on the front nine, Yang beat Tiger by seizing control with his Eagle on 14th hole and then finishing with a birdie on the final hole, after making an amazing blind approach shot.
The shot on 18 was more impressive than Yang’s eagle chip on the 14th because had Yang missed his shot he would have allowed Woods an opportunity to tie with a birdie putt and force a playoff.
However, Yang drilled his approach shot and then calmly sank his birdie putt dashing any hope that Tiger had to rally in a playoff. Woods, clearly shaken, then 2 putted for a boogie.
Several players without a major championship to their credit can now visualize how they can vanquish Woods at a major championship. The field of potential challengers to Woods has now become deeper and stronger because now the challengers believe that they can win because one of them has broken through in beating Tiger.
Golf also needed the best of player of this generation to be beaten because casual fans were beginning to check out. On Sunday morning, the causal golf fan heard that Tiger was up after 54 holes, he had never lost after leading after 54 holes and he had won more majors than his 10 nearest competitors had won combined.
The casual fan likely yawned and decided to enjoy the day outside instead of spending time watching the tournament. Now that it is not a guaranteed coronation for Woods on Sunday when he is in the lead after 54 holes, the casual fan now has a reason to stay and watch the outcome of the tournament.
Of course, casual golf fans need to know more about the field than what is currently being spoon fed to them.
The PGA and the television stations that cover golf will hopefully appreciate the need to actively promote other golfers who compete in majors now that there is a real chance someone other than Woods might win.
There are 18 golfers from the United States ranked in the top 50. After Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, most fans can probably name four or five more golfers but most fans would be hard pressed to come up with the remaining 16 golfers while enjoying a cold adult beverage with their playing partners at the 19th hole at the favorite course.
There are several outstanding international players on the tour who are not named Singh, Els and Garcia that fans should know more about such as Lee Westwood, Henrik Stenson and Camilo Villegas.
As for the up and coming players on the tour, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer are among the top 25 golfers in the world and are both under 25. McIlroy and Kaymer appear to be on the verge of establishing themselves on the stage for quite some time into the future.
Finally, Woods needed to be beat. While it is hard to believe that Woods needed to be beat, he needed to be beat to continue to push himself and ensure his legacy as the greatest golfer of all time.
Woods appeared to play the final two rounds of the PGA Championship very conservatively as if he was playing not to lose as opposed to playing to win the tournament. Winning conservatively is not how a great champion of a generation should be remembered.
Great champions are remembered for how they won championships by taking victory from their opponents. Woods may win enough major championships to pass Nicklaus on the all-time list by playing conservatively but with the growing international field and the rise of several new players on tour, Woods place atop the all-time list is not ensured.
Woods claim to the title greatest golfer of all-time is only ensured if he plays aggressively and pushes himself beyond what he has already accomplished. I believe that Woods ultimately will win more majors than Nicklaus; the real question is will Woods bask in the challenge from the rest of the field to win more than 20 major championships.