We aren’t used to watching golf until the wee hours of the morning, but the early a.m. crankiness from our abbreviated sleep was a small price to pay for all the story lines that came out of The Presidents Cup (my wife would disagree about the value of the crankiness part). Here are a few of my takeaways, for what they are worth:
Tiger Woods’ Love/Hate Relationship with NovemberIf the event did not end early this morning after all east coast newspapers were put to bed, the headlines would be buzzing with words like “Heeeee’s Back!” Tiger Woods had his best November in two years, by far, since his errant Thanksgiving drive into a tree. At The Presidents Cup this week, he corrected
Woods certainly would have been better served if last week’s Australian Open, where he finished a strong third, and this week’s Presidents Cup had been held at the beginning or even in the middle of the PGA Tour season; it would give him something to build on for the intense competition ahead rather than for the non-competitive practice sessions of the coming weeks. But never underestimate the potential of a hard worker with supreme natural gifts, or the positive joss of a straight-shooter new caddy to replace the irascible enabler Steve Williams, Woods’ prior one. The betting here is that, come next season, Tiger Woods will play well, probably win a major and compete for tour-leading status. His play will never again reach its previously legendary heights; but then no one else’s will reach those heights either.
Jim Furyk, a better comeback storyJim Furyk is the poster child for the mind game of golf, as in mental is more important than physical. He will never have Tiger Woods’ golf swing or physical attributes, but he is the embodiment of mind over matter -– his swing doesn’t matter and he doesn’t mind if people pick on it. He was in a horrible funk this past season, his reliable short game having departed for places unknown. But he traveled halfway around the world to find it at Royal Melbourne, where he seemed to make every putt inside 20 feet and led his team with an unblemished record of 5-0. Gracious as always, he gave full credit to Phil Mickelson for building his confidence prior to the Presidents Cup and during the rounds in which they were paired together.
Flamboyant swingers like Woods get the headlines, but golf is a game of steady; Furyk’s eight-piece swing and Keystone Cops pre-putting routine aside, his game is worthy of fawning over too.
Amazing Grace, but Shark Bites Himself
Greg Norman’s captaincy of the International team was a study in contrasts –- just like his playing career in which he was assailed fairly for making poor choices, occasionally even reckless ones, at critical times in major tournaments. His 78 on Sunday at the 1996 Masters, which handed the tournament to Nick Faldo, ranks as one of the biggest collapses ever in golf.
Norman’s on-course decisions came from a strong belief in his own abilities; but over-confidence, especially on tough golf courses, can tilt
Dumb is one thing, but reckless is another, and Norman’s criticism of U.S. Captain Fred Couples’ choice of Tiger Woods as his wild card pick set up the Shark for biting criticism. Allenby went 0 for 5 in his matches, and tanked so badly in the crucial singles match on Sunday that most observers considered the match against Hunter Mahan over well before the turn. Woods smoked the previously well playing Aaron Baddeley in the next-to-last match, although he finished with an overall record of just 2-3 (his playing partners did not cover themselves with glory). If Allenby contributes just two points, the Internationals might have won the Cup, something I suspect the Aussie press will not let Norman forget for a while.
We will say this: Norman was extremely gracious –- and graceful -- in his on-air interviews during the matches, answering all questions forthrightly and heaping compliments on players on both sides. But at the end of the event, when faced with a question about his criticism of Woods as the U.S. captain’s pick, Norman went way off target, like a Sunday at Augusta National.