Monday, May 13, 2013
Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods: My Perspective
Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods entered yesterday's final round of The Players Championship tied for the lead with rookie David Lingmerth at eleven under par. After all of the fireworks were over, and there were plenty, Woods had escaped with a two shot victory and Sergio had exited with his reputation as a petulant loser further reinforced. On Saturday, when paired with Woods, Sergio had blamed Tiger for creating a distraction that resulted in an errant second shot and a bogey 6 on the par 5 second hole. After the round, Garcia proceeded to comment further on the incident. When asked what he thought about being paired with someone other than Woods for the final round, Sergio said it was fine with him, as "we don't really enjoy each other's company..."
I know a lot has been written about Tiger Woods' fall from grace outside the ropes, but I'm a sports fan and don't really care much about the personal lives of athletes. The last time I checked, very few of us are friends or even acquaintances of these mostly millionaire players. All I know is, Tiger Woods has won an unprecedented fifty-two out of fifty-six times that he has led or co-led a PGA tour event entering the final round. For those of you that don't follow golf, there is really no valid comparison, primarily because unlike almost every other sport, golfers have no direct physical influence over the scores of their competitors. Now in some of those instances, his lead was so large that it didn't really matter what anyone else did, as they simply weren't going to catch him.
However, Sunday was a terrific example of why he has been so dominant the last seventeen years when getting a lead. Knowing that the greens, especially those on the back nine, would be very difficult to read and thus putt, he took his chances on the holes that would give him the best chance at birdie. On the rest, he played safe and made his pursuers have to play beyond their capabilities to catch him. Standing on the 14th tee, he had built a seemingly insurmountable two-shot lead. But while trying to play it safe on the very difficult par four, he ended up hooking his tee shot into the water, resulting in a double bogey. The key point about that hole, at least from my perspective, is that he made a bad swing while trying to make the correct shot. By the time he got to the 17th tee and faced the treacherous shot over water to the island green, it was apparent that Garcia, playing in the group behind, would most likely be tied with him by the time Tiger finished the 17th hole.
Tiger could have elected to hit at the flag, but instead played safe, hitting away from the hole and making a safe par 3. At the worst, he was looking at a playoff, unless Garcia could make a birdie on one of the two difficult final holes. When Sergio stepped on the 17th tee, he was indeed tied with Woods at 13 under par. When Garcia won the 2009 Players Championship, he hit a great shot at 17 to win the tournament, thanks mainly to Paul Goydos' shot into the water on the same hole. This time, instead of taking a page from Tiger's book and hitting a less risky shot, Sergio went directly at the flag and came up considerably short in the water. He tried another and it ended up in the same place. He finally holed out for a quadruple bogey 7, then hit his tee shot at 18 into the water for a double bogey six. The point is that Sergio made a poor decision and made it worse by failing to execute it. The same shot aimed at the center of the green would have been dry, keeping him in the tournament for at least another hole.
I'm pretty sure Sergio Garcia is never going to share with me his real reason for going at that pin on 17, but I can guess it was because he didn't believe he could beat Tiger Woods without making a spectacular shot. And that is the reason Tiger has been so dominant with the lead. No one truly believes he will back up by making bad decisions or bad shots. He made a bad shot on Sunday, but it was with a two-stroke lead. Tiger Woods, despite the double bogey, did not relinquish the lead.
Some people will maintain that Tiger isn't all the way back until he wins his fifteenth major. I disagree. He's won four times in six stroke play events this year, the earliest he has reached that victory total in his career. But the more telling sign is that he is back in the heads of his fellow competitors. I can assure you, they don't think he's back, they KNOW he's back, by virtue of finishing behind him four times already this season. And you want to know the scariest thing if you're a tour player? Tiger's last comment in his post-round interview was simply, "I'm getting better." Watch out golf world. This guy isn't done yet!