Sunday, June 15, 2008

Tiger Being Tiger

I know golf is typically seen as the least-possible entertaining thing to watch on TV by sporting enthusiasts, but I have to say my piece about Tiger Woods and his performance this weekend.

Say what you want about the sport, but plain and simple yesterday's back 9 was the Jordan Flu Game of golf. And today's clutch 12 foot putt on the 18th hole was absolutely stunning.

Tiger simply is out of this world good. He finished 2nd in the Masters with a bum knee and had to have surgery to repair the damage. He comes back weeks later, rusty and in pain, and still manages to take hold of the lead entering Sunday's final round thanks to three amazing shots on the final 6 holes of Saturday's 3rd round.

But after going +3 in the first two holes of the final round and in considerable pain, things looked bad for Tiger. His 13-0 record in major tournaments when leading after 54 was in serious jeopardy. I was legitimately concerned he might pull out after the 3rd tee shot, where he was grimacing and doubled over in pain. Everything he had worked for seemed in doubt.

Somehow he stayed the course and things fell in place for a dramatic final hole, needing birdie to force a playoff against fan-favorite Rocco Mediate. Even after making a mistake and putting himself in a tough position, he managed to set himself up for the dramatic tying birdie putt. As if there was any doubt that he would do it, Woods barely made it, as his birdie attempt trickled in just before rolling past the cup.

I can't overstate just how amazing Tiger Woods is. He has continually proven that he is the best in the world at what he does. There is no Rafael Nadal to his Roger Federer. Nobody is better than him, on any field, in any situation, under any circumstances.

What makes his greatness even more amazing is the pressure that he performs under. This wasn't just your run-of-the-mill final round. Not only was he trying to protect his 13-0 streak, but he is fighting the course (a final 3 holes that fit Mediate's style to a tee), history (Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors looming ahead) and his own physical limitations at the same time. Not just that, but Woods certainly had to be thinking about his recently passed father. What a fantastic Father's Day present he gave to his late mentor and friend. Every one of these things had to be weighing on him as he prepared to take the final stroke.

A normal human being would have folded under the pressure. I myself was a wreck, with knots in my stomach turning, hoping Woods would succeed. Instead of caving, Woods ignored all the distractions. The pain, the pressure, the cameras. Calmly he sank the putt and then erupted like we've never seen. It might have been the biggest shot of his career. The mere fact we can't say that for certain is a testament to his illustrious achievements. He's had so many of these shots that we could sit for days arguing which is the best. Anyone else and it would have easily been the pinnacle of their career. That's just how good Tiger Woods is.

If he ends up losing tomorrow, it would definitely be an anticlimactic finale to an otherwise compelling weekend. Regardless, to see the very best in the world perform at such a high level is a privilege. What is amazing is that Woods puts more pressure on himself than what he receives from the media and his fans, and continues to surpass those expectations with every round of golf he plays.

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