Tiger’s win in Masters was more then spectacular

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 19, 2002

Sports Columnist

Hootie Johnson stepped to the podium Sunday afternoon to deliver his obligatory remarks on the just completed Masters golf tournament. He made his standard appreciative remarks to the volunteers, grounds keepers, and even, in a roundabout way, God himself for making the weather more pleasant than was expected. Then he turned his attention to the man who would soon be fitted for his second consecutive green jacket, Tiger Woods, calling his play over the previous few days "spectacular".

I’m sorry, but did Hootie watch the same tournament I did?

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You could describe Tiger’s performance in the 2002 Masters a lot of waysbut "spectacular"?!? No. Impressive? Yes. Superb? Yes. Remarkable? Certainly. But not spectacular.

We should all have an appreciation for what spectacular golf is from watching Tiger perform during his brief but brilliant career. He’s had his share of 30-foot putts while clinging to a one stroke lead. We’ve seen errant drives that would force a lesser golfer to merely punch the ball out onto the fairway, yet inspires Tiger to shoot it between limbs and over hazards to miraculously save par. We watched as he thoroughly humiliated this same course, the most revered in all of golf, as he defeated the rest of the field by an absurd margin to win his first Masters a few years ago. Now that’s spectacular.

What we saw last week was more along the lines of "brilliant". And it may have given us a peek inside the gameplan that Tiger brings to golf’s major events these days.

When people look at the things he has accomplished in his few years as a professional golfer, they tend to look at what a tremendous athlete he is. There’s no question he is one of the strongest golfers on the tour, as he is consistently one of the longest drivers. He seems nearly tireless, which may be owed as much to his youth as to his conditioning. All these no doubt contribute to his greatness. But what separates Tiger these days is as much mental as physical.

Much was made this year about the powers that be at Augusta National seemingly attempting to "Tiger-proof" the course. Not that they didn’t want him to win. They were just trying, it seemed, to make it a little more difficult for him to shoot such ridiculously low scores and make the course look too easy.

What they did instead was play right into the hands of Tiger and the other long drivers, in effect further separating them from the rest of the field. As they continued to fire off their standard 300-yarders, the not-so-heavy-hitters were forced to try to hit it farther than they normally would, resulting in mistakes and errant tee shots they couldn’t recover from.

And Tiger didn’t come to see how badly he could beat everyone, or have a long drive contest anyway. He came to play his game. And what is his game?

Well, it’s very similar to the game Chris Evert used to play at every major tennis championship you ever watched her in. Her style wasn’t the scorching serve, or charging the net, or diving all over the court. It was methodically volleying back and forth, sideline to sideline, keeping it in play until her opponents forced the issue and made a mistake. The result was sometimes boring tennis, but more championships then most can dream of.

I used to play on a city league volleyball team that had pretty much the same philosophy. We realized early on that we probably didn’t have the greatest collection of athletes in the league (I did mention that I was on the team). So our gameplan was simple: Don’t try to do too much, keep it in play, let the other team get impatient and mess up. We won the league.

Now Tiger seems to be using the same approach (I’m so proud). If you’ll notice, you rarely see him at the top of the leader board after the first day or two. Typically the leader will be somewhere around five under par and Tiger will be hanging around at even par somewhere. The leaders will have made some terrificdare I sayspectacular, shots along the way while Tiger was content to play consistent, mistake-free golf. The next day, most of the top of the leader board has changed and Tiger is maybe a stroke or two better than the day before, if not the same.

This continues on until the final day, when low and behold, Tiger now finds himself at the top while those other guys are still trying to make the spectacular shot and taking foolish gambles. Just take a look at Vijay Singh’s quadruple bogey on 15 as he was trying to catch Tiger. He insisted on trying to hit it too perfect too often, and it cost him the opportunity for the win.

Tiger has figured it out, that if you shoot one under par the first day (not exactly a spectacular score), then again the second day, and so on, eventually you find yourself several strokes under par coming into the last day. He seems content to keep it in play, not do too much, and let the rest take themselves out of contention trying to outdo him.

No, I wouldn’t call it spectacular.

More like "Master-ful".