The Tiger Effect

As you probably know, Tiger Woods won his 57th PGA Tour title on Sunday. Tiger’s victory came at the Wachovia Classic, which is fast becoming one of the Tour’s most prestigious events. Still, what first looked like a potentially classic weekend, with both Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson in the hunt, quickly turned into what has become the norm; Tiger playing solidly and others folding around him.

They used to say of Jack Nicklaus: He knew he was better than you; You knew he was better than you; And he knew that you knew he was better than you. I think we could use that same quote today – only substitute Jack’s name for Tiger. Of course all this knowing makes Tiger an incredibly confident golfer. But this knowing, if your name is not Tiger Woods, can also make for an incredibly unsure golfer. And today, that is what we continue to see every time someone goes head to head against Tiger.

Have you heard the old saying “fake it until you make it?” That’s good advice in most cases – but the thing about confidence and golf is — you can’t fake it. You have to KNOW you’re capable of doing something, such as beating Tiger Woods. That said, there are still players who attempt, as Rory Sabbatini did this weekend, to make statements about not being afraid of Tiger, and how they’re looking forward to showing the golf world that they can compete and beat the best. Of course, we all know how that worked out for Sabbatini. I for one think this strategy – the cocky strategy – is a huge mistake. Its too much added pressure. But I suppose one of the reasons these guys are so good – is their ego. So it’s tough to turn that off. Yet, I think players, in order to beat Tiger, need to take a completely different strategy. I think they need to take a more self-deprecating approach. Because here’s the thing — Tiger is already better, more talented and works harder. So it doesn’t make sense to try and “Out-Tiger” him, as they will never catch up.

If you look at two of the golfers who had success against Tiger, you’ll notice they’re not classic players. First, the only person Tiger has lost to after starting with a lead on Sunday is Ed Fiori. Ever heard of Ed Fiori? Most people haven’t. His nickname is “the grip” because his hold on the club is so strong and unconventional. However, he plays his own game and has no delusions of grandeur. He also overtook Tiger Woods at the 1996 John Deere Classic with a great Sunday round. Next, we have Bob May, who perhaps gave Tiger his greatest challenge – one of the all-time great duels at the 2000 PGA championship. May matched Tiger shot for shot and could have easily won the tournament.

The same thing happened with Jack Nicklaus. There were a long line of “bear successors”, but it was Lee Trevino who had unquestionably the greatest head to head record against Nicklaus. And he was about as polar an opposite in style as a golfer could be. But he joked about it. He would kid on the first tee that there was no way he could win against the great Nicklaus. He would literally say before hitting a shot — “this will be about fifty yards behind you Jack.” Trevino self deprecated his way to six major wins – with a few against Nicklaus himself.

I mention this because as I watched the Wachovia Championship this week, it became crystal clear what was happening with two of Tiger’s main competitors – Vijay Singh and Rory Sabbatini. They both got out of their comfort zone while playing with Tiger. But they both have made comments about not being scared/intimidated by Tiger. Well, it sure didn’t look that way this weekend. First on Saturday, Vijay, who had been swinging flawlessly, made swings we haven’t seen from him in months. His club was dropping so far inside on the downswing that his hands were flipping just to catch up. This is what Vijay does under pressure. Next, on Sunday, Rory, who had been aggressive all week with his swing – started easing in to the ball and began missing it left and right. This was clearly not Sabbatini’s normal swing and he was obviously nervous.

Both these players had the pressure of the event, the pressure of playing with Tiger and lastly, the pressure of living up to their own expectations. This is just too much pressure. That’s why I think the next player who really challenges Tiger will not be a “Tiger clone.” Instead, he will be an individual with a very distinct motion, a wonderful short game and an unyielding belief in his technique. He will not try to beat Tiger at his own game – but compete on his own terms. And he will realize that Tiger is the best — maybe the best ever — and he’s lucky to be a part of this era and hopefully, with a little good fortune and the right attitude, he might just carve out his own little piece of history.

One Response to “The Tiger Effect”

  1. Ted Exley says:

    I had hopes that Stenson would make a breakthrough into World Golf, this year, and challenge Tiger, along with Justin Rose. I am now doubtful that anyone will make it tough for Tiger, because of the ‘Tiger Factor’ for at least 5 years.
    The best that the others can hope for is that Tiger enjoys being a Dad, as much as he enjoyed being a Son, and that he starts to spend more and more time away from the course, with his new family……That, I fear, is the only answer….or they could ‘Nobble’ him, or put something into his fluid intake…..

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