Rick Reilly authored a terrific piece on Monday about Tiger Woods and his suddenly ice-cold major championship run that has left him at 14 majors since June of 2009. Not that Reilly and ****.com need more web-hits, but the piece is great and you can read it RIGHT HERE if you like.
Reilly hints around in the piece about the very subject I’ve been discussing with regard to Woods for the better part of a year now: It sure looks as if he’s lost his putting nerve in the only four tournaments that matter to him anymore — the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open and PGA.
That Tiger has won 13 times over the last five years – a helluva career for just about anyone else – during his major-less drought is a testament to the golfing ability he still retains.
But, make no mistake about it, putting on Sunday at Torrey Pines in late January is nothing at all like staring down a slippery five-footer at the U.S. Open in June.
Bobby Jones once said: ”There’s golf and then there’s tournament golf, and in no way are the two similar.”
What he meant, basically, is that anyone can go play a round of golf with their buddies…or tee-it up in the Tuesday night beer league at the local club — but playing in a golf tournament is a completely different, and more difficult, animal.
Well, the same goes for the greats of the game like Tiger Woods.
There’s playing well at Doral and/or Bay Hill and then there’s shooting 32 on the back nine at Augusta on Sunday to win The Masters, something Woods apparently is no longer capable of pulling off.
And the reason he can’t win a major these days is almost purely because of his putting.
To my eye – and I haven’t seen EVERY putt he’s missed in all of the majors since ’09 – it’s easy to tell that Tiger’s nerves are slipping because most of the make-able putts I’ve seen him miss have gone low of the hole, which tells me he’s quitting on the stroke at impact. A confident putter generally misses on the high side. Someone struggling to make solid contact at impact usually misses it low. I see Tiger missing a lot of putts low these days.
Back in 2006, at the height of Tiger-mania, I played in a U.S. Open qualifier with a journeyman touring professional named John Elliott, who will forever be part of a trivia question: ”Name the two players who played with Tiger Woods in his professional debut in Milwaukee in 1996.” One of those guys was the aforementioned John Elliott. Anyway, as Elliott and I walked down the 15th fairway at Eagle’s Nest, he made what seemed at the time to be an offhand comment about Woods that stuck with me that day and has really proved to be quite true now, in 2013. He said, “Tiger hasn’t missed a putt that’s mattered in his career. Never. Once he does, he’ll become just a regular decent putter again like the rest of us.”
It seems crazy to say that a guy who has 13 wins in the last five years has declined to that of a “regular decent putter”, but there’s putting in tournaments at Doral and TPC Sawgrass and there’s putting in tournaments at Augusta and Merion. They’re not the same, at all.
I was at Merion last Monday and Tuesday and I could distinctly sense tension in Tiger when I was around him on the range and in the media center on Tuesday. He was smiling a lot, but once a question turned to anything remotely close to “why haven’t you won a major title lately?” he quickly defended himself with a comment about having four wins this season and anything else he could say to deflect the obvious issue in front of him: he’s been stuck on fourteen major titles since 2009.
He’s quick to point out “winning majors is hard work”, but it wasn’t hard work for him from 1997 through 2009 when he beat everyone like a drum whenever he felt like doing it.
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