Salvaging Tiger Wood’s Reputation

The Augusta Masters’ tournament features the latest attempt to salvage Tiger Wood’s golfing reputation. During the second round, Wood’s shot hit the flag on the fifthteenth hole and the ball bounced back into the water. Wood had to take a one-stroke penalty and hit his next shot from the drop circle. Later, after a caller apparently called the tournament committee, alerting it to a possible violation, and after Wood admitted in an interview that he had deliberately dropped the ball two yards back from where, in golfing parlance, the ball “crossed the margin” — two yards in front of where he had actually dropped it, the committee convened the next morning and assessed Wood a two-stroke penalty, on top of the required one-stroke penalty for hitting the ball out-of-bounds.

Subsequently, some of those who were argunig against disqualification of Tiger Wood for signing an incorrect score card, emphasized that photographs showed that his drop may have been only six inches behind where he should have dropped the ball. Other commentators were stressing a relatively new rule, which allows the tournament committee to rule against disqualification under certain conditions. The crucial rule that hasn’t changed is disqualification for signing an incorrect score card. Wood had admitted that he deliberately dropped the ball two yards back from the designated drop point in order to better control his distance on the next shot. Thus, Wood admitted that he signed a score card that he knew to be incorrect and the rule required him to disqualify himself. A pro golfer tweeted that Wood was saying that he was bigger than the golf game and that he could, with impunity, disregard rules that would be applied to all other golfers.

Switching to discussion of Tiger Wood’s golfing future, I feel the epitome of  predicting a bright future for Wood in the face of contrasting information, occurred at Augusta, when a veteran golf analyst initially said the biggest part of Wood’s failure to win at Augusta was that he was only four strokes under par on the par 5’s. Right after the analyst commented on the par 5’s, he said he thought Wood had a good chance of winning the U.S. Open at Meridian, because it is a short course where Wood could hit irons off the tee. So right after saying that a key feature of Wood winning majors was his long drives off the tee, leading to eagles and an occasional eagle on the par 5’s, the analyst said a shorter driving course was to Wood’s advantage. This kind of analysis comes under the category of “we’ll always find reasons why Tiger Wood should win the next major” — even though he hasn’t won a major in five years.

Next, the anlayst went on to propose that Wood was going to have a good chance of winning the British Open and the PGA major. It has been several years since Wood won the British Open and he missed the cut two or three years ago. Last year, Wood was not in contention on Sunday at the British Open and even though Adam Scott — in the lead at the time — bogeyed the last four holes, Wood finished behind Scott and the winner, Ernie Els.

As for Tiger Wood winning the PGA tournament, it is usually played on a par 70 or 71 course, meaning that there are fewer par 5’s to play, thus reducing an important Wood advantage.

The analyst at Augusta also stressed the fact that Wood has finished in the top five several times since he last won a major. What he didn’t say was that Wood was not in a good position to win on Sunday at several of the majors. When Phil Michelson won his last major at Augusta, Tiger Wood finished well behind him, and was caught and passed by Anthony Kim. K.J. Choi, who, I believe, started either behind or tied with Wood at the Sunday start, finished tied with Wood.

It has long been the case that golf commentators have grossly overused the terms, “Tiger lurking,” “Tiger on the hunt,” and “Tiger charging.” The fact is, as many of these commentators concede, that Wood has never won a major when he trailed going into the final Sunday. There is a reason why Wood doesn’t come from behind in majors: both Wood and his former caddy, Steve — now the caddy for Adam Scott — explained how Wood plays the majors. Wood and his caddy determine beforehand where on the green Wood should have his approach shot land to avoid a bogey. This is a cautious strategy that assumes or hopes that the winning score will be close to even par. It is not a strategy that works when the winning score is well under par. Phil Michelson was -16 in his last win at Augusta and Rory McElroy outshot the entire field by eight strokes in his last win at a major.

One other factor that will make it difficult for Wood to win more majors is the emergence of exceptionally talented young players and some who are older but still younger than Wood. Among the golfers who are younger than 25, the most talented might be Rory McElroy and Jason Day. Not far behind them are Rickie Fowler and Keegan Bradley. Among those over 25, the most formidable challlengers might be Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott. Scott held or tied the lead on Sunday in two majors and won this year in Augusta.




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