Why of the Tiger: Distractions fell Woods

        Focus is the key to success in all professional sports.  Try hitting a rising 97 MPH fastball while wondering if your sick father will survive the night in hospital.  Or thread through 200 MPH traffic at Talladega while contemplating if your wife is cheating on you.  At least in baseball and car racing, though, decisions are made in a split second.  Roy Halladay throws you a 3 & 2 fastball up and in or Tony Stewart cuts you off on the back turn, and you have little time to think.  You just react.

        In professional golf, you don’t have the “luxury” of quick reaction

With all the things on his mind, it is a wonder Tiger Woods even made the cut at the PGA Championship.

time.  The five minutes or so between shots is an eternity during which to plot strategy for the next shot, get your adrenalin under control, and then swing.  But if gallery stalkers are whispering about your personal life, if your wife is taking more than half your assets (say, $500 million), if a Ryder Cup captain and TV commentator almost come to blows over you (Corey Pavin vs Jim Gray), if you still show up occasionally in supermarket tabloids, if you have to negotiate to see your own children, and if some sports pundits are beginning to write your competitive epitaph (and blaming you for the sad state of the sport), you may have one or two side issues intruding on your next swing thought.

        For Tiger Woods, it is not the swing.  Look no farther than his performance on par 5s this weekend at Whistling Straits.  What, after all, is a par 5?  It is three opportunities (two, for the long hitters) to screw up before they get to the green (in regulation) and two more chances once there.  In that regard, the par 5 is probably the best guide to a golfer’s focus, consistency boiled down to just one type of hole played an average four times per round.  Par 5s are “money” for the great players, where they rack up the birdies and occasional eagles that, on tough courses like the Straits, give them the luxury of playing a bit more conservatively on the tougher 3s and 4s.

        Woods is +1 on the par 5s going into the final round of the PGA Championship, his worst competitive performance on three-shot holes ever.  Arguably, those of us who sport high single- and low double-digit handicaps could perform as well hitting a long iron off the par 5 tee boxes, then another long iron to 100 yards or so, and then a short iron or wedge to the greens for a routine par.

        Woods is not the only giant struggling out there.  Phil Mickelson is barely scratching his way around Whistling Straits.  But the contrast is stark; Mickelson’s distractions are not of his making, and include a recently diagnosed disease that has changed his diet and lifestyle, as well as his wife's and mom's battle with cancer.  Woods’ well-documented distractions, on the other hand, are not exactly sympathy inducing. 

        By showing his true stripes off the golf course, Tiger Woods seems to have lost them on the course.


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