Woods wins Masters

By Mark Whicker KRT
April 14, 2005

Tiger Woods has not reversed global warming or replaced the forests or gotten us all to join hands and sing, “We Are The World.”

Woods hasn’t even triggered a wave of good young minority golfers. Or young male golfers, period. The hottest incubation pod is Great Britain, where the kids certainly knew of Woods but actually grew up worshipping Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo. Industry-wide, golf participation by the common man has flattened out, and golfing brands come and go.

But when it comes to the continuing saga of tournament golf, Tiger Woods is the planet and everyone else is a moon. Again, Tiger makes it matter.

All other golfers are measured against his shadow, even when that shadow coughs and hacks and spits out a four-stroke lead, as Woods did during the magnificent coda of an annoyingly demanding Masters Tournament.

When was the last time Tiger choked? Woods’ tee shot at 17 _ on the heels of his epochal chip shot on 16 that gave him the two-shot lead _ was right out of the Greg Norman gag book, and so was his pushy second shot on 18. Overall, Woods hit seven of 14 fairways during the fourth round.

Chris DiMarco refused to hold the door for Woods even though he had blown his own four-shot lead in the morning resumption of Round 3.

Makes you wonder about the `97 Masters and the `00 U.S. and British Opens, all blowouts by Woods, when everyone else was paralyzed by his new dimension. The pros are better now. Woods is responsible for that.

It also helps that Woods is working on a bigger project here. Everything he does, or doesn’t do, is framed by the growth chart on his bedroom wall as a kid. Everything is measured in JNT-Jack Nicklaus Time.

Woods’ victory here kept him ahead of the clock. He won his fourth Masters at 29. Nicklaus won his at 32. Woods won his ninth major title at 29. Nicklaus won his at 31 (the PGA).

When Fred Couples wins the Masters, it’s a nice, popular story but it lacks a historical context. Same thing when Mark Brooks wins the PGA. That major, in 1996, was the last one decided without Tiger _ he turned pro the next month. Everything since then has been charted like a moon shot in the 60s. Woods makes it all more important.

This was the first major victory for Woods since the 2002 U.S. Open. But he was never close to a legitimate slump. During this, uh, lull, Woods stretched his incredible made-cut streak to a current 141. In 2003 he won five events, including two World Golf Championship events, and in 2004 he won the WGC-World Match Play for the second consecutive year. He was second and fourth on the money list and had 26 top 10 finishes in 37 tournaments.

Woods was recovering from a bad knee during part of that. He also was moving away from Butch Harmon _ a process that began at the `02 PGA, when he birdied the final four holes and finished second to Rich Beem _ and toward a self-help regimen. He began to listen to Hank Haney. Such a shift in instruction wouldn’t have even made the papers in Nicklaus’ prime, but golfers are in a fishbowl now (again, thanks to Tiger) and the Woods-Haney tandem has been second-guessed.

“Hank and I have put some serious hours into this,” Woods said, “and I read the articles where he gets ripped, I get ripped for the changes I’m making, and to play as beautifully as I did is pretty cool.”

Two things:

(1) If Tiger wants to find out what “getting ripped” is, he should become a member of the Phillies’ or Red Sox’s bullpen. Most royal families don’t get the deferential coverage Tiger has received since he was 12 years old.

(2) Haney might want to disassociate himself from the “beautiful” shots that wound up throwing Tiger into the playoff.

“He kept saying he was close,” Haney said. “I kept saying it. A lot of people reacted to that and didn’t believe it. But I knew he was never that far off. And he weathered the storm.

“Sure, some people ripped me. A lot did. But that’s part of the territory. I’m just a small part of his support system, but until you get involved in it, you don’t know the enormity of Tiger Woods.”

One suspects Woods doesn’t fully buy the theory that Harmon and Haney are molding him into whatever he is. This is his second swing change. Both happened after Woods broke the 72-hole Masters record in 1997.

“I won six majors with the other swing, and a different one the first time around,” Woods said pointedly. “So it did all right.”

No doubt Phil Mickelson, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh – the Wee Three? – will weigh in several more times this year. But Els is 35, Mickelson turns 35 in June, and Singh is 42. All of them can still win, thanks to a conditioning emphasis that also is credited to Woods. But they should hurry.

A golfer’s target years are generally his early to mid 30s. What sort of template is Woods trying to fill? Well, Nicklaus won two majors when he was 32 and was beginning to embark on a torrid 15-major streak. In fourteen of those tournaments he finished in the Top 6.

“I guess I’m halfway but there’s a long way to go,” Tiger said.

This is not the pursuit of .400, or 2,500 rushing yards. This is your life, Tiger Woods, a life that, by the serendipitous rub of the green, happens to run parallel to ours.

Posted to the web by Chris Gentile

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Mark Whicker KRT

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