Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Was Tiger's bid for another Major too costly?

Was it ego, stupidity or heroism? Regardless of the answer (and it’s most likely a combination of all three), Tiger Woods put his historic career on the line for the sake of one championship.

IMG, his management company issued a statement that Tiger has shut it down for the rest of the year and will have reconstructive surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and will spend the rest of the year rehabilitating his left leg. Oh, they also added that he played on a double stress fracture of his left tibia. The latter was discovered during the week of the Memorial Tournament.

During the week, Tiger alluded to the fact that he went against doctor’s advice when he teed it up at Torrey Pines. Let’s see, do I jeopardize my billion dollar career for one Major? Do I risk permanent damage for one more try for the brass ring? Evidently, he thought it was and played. He overcame the pain and persevered for not 72, but 91 holes. This speaks volumes for his tolerance of pain, but not a whole lot for his common sense. At the age of 32, he has a lot of Major championship appearances left and the odds of him winning six more to become the all time leader aren’t significantly less than winning five.

One thing that will certainly happen is that Tiger’s swing guru, Hank Haney, will be charged with developing a less violent swing that will reduce the torque on the knee. Perhaps this will call for a strategy that relies less on overpowering a golf course and more on shot making and use of his tremendous short game. He certainly has the talent to dominate using those attributes.

I think we can look for a change in Tiger’s future schedules. It might look like the four Majors, three WGC events, a couple with Buick in the title, his tournament in Washington, D.C. and two or three FedEx final events. He’ll probably add a couple overseas like Dubai where he’s designing a course and another where he picks up a design job. He can spend the rest of the year pursuing other trivial challenges like bringing peace to the Middle East and stopping global warming.

Hopefully, Tiger will realize that he’s not bulletproof and that he’s susceptible to the frailties of the human body. With any luck, over the next six or seven months, Tiger’s body will totally heal and that his thought process will include tomorrow and not just today. If it does, he may come back better than ever.

While trying to recover from the sheer excitement of the U.S. Open, some random thoughts crept into my cranium. Now they’ve worked themselves down my arms and are pouring out of my fingers. Here we go.

The professional golf season is now half over and the two most endearing characters from this unfolding tale are two guys who lost in playoffs, Paul Goydos in The Players Championship and Rocco Mediate in the U.S. Open. They were the ultimate underdogs and wore their emotions on their sleeves. America always has a soft spot for the underdog and if that underdog has a bit of personality (in the case of professional golfers, this means the ability to say a simple hello), they become instant heroes. The fact that in the end both came up short didn’t tarnish their luster.

Having the U.S. Open in prime time certainly gave golf a much needed shot in the arm. The ratings were the highest since the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach when Tiger won by double figures. Even the playoff numbers were through the roof for a Monday afternoon and this didn’t count all those who watched it on their computers while at work. One would hope the USGA would consider returning to the left coast more frequently. Who knows maybe the industry will get off their collective butts and seize the opportunity to use these occasions to grow the game? Probably not. They haven’t done before, why change now?

When people think of Callaway, they usually think of drivers. Having said that, they must have been apoplectic during the Open when their premiere poster boy, Phil Mickelson, made a big deal about taking his driver out of the bag because he wanted to hit more fairways. He then took down Callaway’s fairway wood program when he couldn’t find the fairway with his 3-wood. He also didn’t shed a positive light on the company’s wedge program when it took four tries to get his ball on the green from 40-yards in the middle of the fairway on the 13th hole on Saturday effectively knocking him out of contention. Callaway gets all this for a paltry $8 to $12 million a year. They recouped some of their reputation on Monday every time Rocco’s bag flashed on the screen, but the Mickelson travesty had to be embarrassing particularly in their own back yard. The least he could have done is carry the driver and not use it.

Being a cynical curmudgeon, I have a couple of questions. If the USGA is so puritanical and steadfast about an 18-hole playoff, why did the Open end in sudden death? For the first time in history, sudden death didn’t start on the first hole. Instead they created a three hole loop with hole 7, 8 and 18. Couldn’t they have used this loop on Sunday as a playoff site? Better yet, instead of sudden death, they could have had the players play the three holes with low aggregate score winning the title. In a championship of this magnitude, sudden death in any form sucks.

In closing, a final reflection on the Open—the right guy won. I get the feeling that if Rocco made an extra good shot, Tiger would have made an extra great one. If Rocco made one more putt, Tiger would have made two. Rocco was a worthy competitor. Tiger was and is destined.

Bartender, please break out a bottle of 2003 Altesino Brunello di Montalcino Cru Montosoli and pour a glass for my paisans Rocco and Paul and leave the bottle. We’re going to toast battles hard fought and victories found in the ashes of defeat.

See you on the first tee,


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