Teed Off (25-03-2012)
with Robert Bicknell
When it comes to sports, there is the physical aspect and the mental. Psychology is one of the hardest parts to master, but once you do, it can reap huge benefits and if you don't believe me, just look at some of the biggest names in sports. They all have the correct mindset and know how to get into their opponent's head.
Muhammad Ali was a master at the mind game. He suckered more opponents into fighting the fight he wanted than anyone else. Can you say "rope-a-dope?"
Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods and many others beat their opponents mentally first, then on the court or course, as the case may be.
I have steadfastly claimed that Tiger Woods' first appearance on Tour was a carefully orchestrated event which immediately got inside his opponents heads when they were mentally vulnerable at the end of the season. He won a few and then sat back during the off season and let the other Pros tie themselves into mental knots. When the next season kicked off, they already convinced themselves he could beat them.
Granted, Tiger Woods is an amazing athlete and deserves all the plaudits he has received for his skill, awards and level of play. Sure, he's a lousy human being, but many big sports stars are like that.
The question I am wondering about is if Tiger is setting his opponents up once again. We know he likes to control information very carefully. He releases what he wants, when he wants, to obtain a desired result.
If everyone knows Tiger is back at full game, they will bear down a bit harder during the Masters. They will anticipate a Tiger charge like Nicklaus' opponents did. They will be looking over their shoulders and gunning for him.
But, on the other hand, if they think Tiger isn't really up to form yet, or he's still injured (Achilles Heel), they might just discount him as a threat for the moment and focus on the people out there who they know they can beat.
My gut tells me Tiger isn't hurt, he's setting an ambush.
He caught the entire PGA Tour flatfooted when he made his debut and most never fully recovered. With every added win and every new media story claiming his dominance, he had most of them automatically playing for second place. He beat them in the mind.
So, what if he's doing it again, but instead of touting his unbeatable skill, he's feigning weakness to draw them in before pouncing and shattering their confidence?
Consider: If most of the big guns think Tiger is still misfiring, they will concentrate on their nearest competitor and not give him much thought until he posts a ridiculously low number on Saturday to either take the lead or get within striking distance. If that happens, you know the leaders won't be sleeping well that night and will make nerve-related mistakes on Sunday.
That's how you win if you're smart.
Champion long distance runners and jockeys employ the same strategy. They never grab the lead from the beginning against a strong field. Instead, they hang back within striking distance and let the leaders get over confident. The front runners burn themselves out and that's when they kick it into passing gear and blow by everyone.
Now, will this scenario actually happen?
It's hard to know what is really going on with Tiger Woods because he plays the media like a fiddle. People only know what he wants them to know (unless he crashes his Escalade into a tree or Hank Haney writes another book), so the most we can do is look at the information in front of us, his past history and make an educated guess.
Tiger starts to heal and put up some decent numbers. The media and his competitors take notice of this and begin to look at him as a serious rival again, so what happens?
Tiger walks off the course with a strained Achilles Heel and his competition breathes a sigh of relief, figuring he might not be 100 per cent.
It's a trap, pure and simple.
But, of course, I could be wrong… — VNS