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Teed Off (20-09-2009)

Update: September, 20/2009 - 00:00

Teed Off

(20-09-2009)

with Robert Bicknell

Tiger Woods captured his 71st PGA victory by eight strokes over the competitors in the BMW Classic last week. After the event, Woods claimed "I am back to my very best."

The question is whether Woods has indeed returned to form, or the claim is part of a head game intended to demoralise would-be competitors following his first loss in a Major when holding the lead after the third round to unheralded Yang Yong-Eun of Korea.

That loss was literally the shot heard ‘round the world. The unthinkable happened. Yang proved Tiger to be human after all and now Woods need to put the fear back into his opponents.

I have said for a long time that Woods wins a lot of his events through intimidation of the other players. The media is his biggest accomplice and even the PGA Tour often acts as his personal PR office because without Tiger winning, the ratings drop and so do the sponsorship dollars.

Every few years another superstar comes along in most every sport in which the future of the game relies on. In Basketball, it was Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. In golf, it was Sam Snead, Arnold Palmer, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Greg Norman, Phil Mickelson and then Tiger Woods.

All regarded as "franchise’ players, meaning the entire team can be built around them. The difference in golf is that the team is the PGA Tour itself, which is a huge load for any one player to carry, so they manufacture rivalries.

Nicklaus – Watson was a classic rivalry, but all attempts to make a Woods – Mickelson rivalry flopped because he wasn’t up to the task of sticking it to Tiger. Neither was Ernie Els, or Vijay Singh. Both drank the PGA Tour Kool-aid and fell into line, or by the wayside, if you will.

Tiger is a tremendous talent, there is no doubt of that, yet Yang proved he CAN be beaten by someone hungry enough and who refused to drink the Kool-Aid.

The fact of the matter is that while Woods is great for drawing sponsorship and TV dollars, filling the course with patrons and getting more people to develop an interest in the game, what will the PGA Tour do when Tiger retires someday.

Look, he may love the game, but with a gazillion dollars in the bank, the competitive fires will slowly burn out as it happens to most athletes. He’ll want to spend more time with the family, work on different business deals and eventually, trot himself out only for the Majors or some charity event.

So the idea of building up Tiger to be some kind of unbeatable foe is a double-edged sword. It draws the dollars now, but with no competition available, it becomes mundane and boring.

So for the future, we must look towards Europe or Asia for the "next big thing" because to be the best you have to beat the best. If they fall into the Tiger worship trap, they can never face him down. Fortunately, Europeans respect Tiger, but don’t worship him, which is why he doesn’t fare too well in the Ryder Cup or the British Opens (yes, I know "The Open").

Asian golfers aren’t ready to compete against him yet because they have too many issues with being in a foreign land and away from their families and familiar foods / culture. But this will change as these kids become more and more established and travel more.

Australia/New Zealand have produced some great golfers in the past and will continue to do so for a long time to come. The problem again lies with the travel issue. They can make a decent playing in Australia or on the Asian or European tours, so a few don’t put themselves through the hassle of dealing with the US Tour. Those who do often come up short because of lack of experience with that style of play, not a lack of talent.

Once they realise that Tiger beats people in the head before they ever tee it up, they’ll develop into a legitimate threat to his crown. — VNS

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