Sunday, June 03, 2001

Tiger can win anytime, anywhere

        DUBLIN — Fans who hang around all day to watch half a round of rain-smeared golf deserve what they get, and you can take that any way you like. Golf fans who also play the game are conditioned to trust in the nobility of suffering. On Saturday, they got Tiger Woods as their reward.

        Woods makes the illogical sound reasonable. So what about this:

        He can win whenever he wants.

        Whenever his focus narrows to a laser beam, he can win.

        Whenever he's not using a tournament to work on shots he'll need for the next major championship, he can win. If Woods' focus happens to collide with his A-game at an event — '97 Masters, 2000 U.S. Open — he can win big. He can make a tornado out of the leaderboard.

Calling his shot(s)

        This is unheard of in golf. But as we're finding out, Woods tests the bounds of unheard-of whenever he tees it up. He works in Michael Jordan's air. He bears the scent of inevitability. Woods is Babe Ruth calling his shot, if Ruth called it four or five times a year.

        He's two shots behind Paul Azinger at the Memorial. It will be interesting today. At age 25, Woods already has won so much, we're nominating foils. Everyone from Phil Mickelson to David Duval to Ernie Els has been chosen to play Tom Watson to Woods' Jack Nicklaus.

        Today it's Azinger, the tough 41-year-old cancer survivor, and brash Sergio Garcia, who has Tiger's flair but, at 21, not his maturity.

        It's Tiger's tournament to win or lose.

        There is this about Tiger: He is a golf nerd. At the British Open last year, Woods talked about spending hours on the practice green between rounds. Not because the putts weren't falling; he wasn't satisfied with how they were rolling.

        On Wednesday, Woods professed to feeling good about his swing.

        How can you tell, Tiger?

        “It's nice to see the flight and the trajectory, and that divot pattern,” Woods explained.

        That what?

        Most pros notice how their divots look. Divots tell them if their irons are square to the target. But no pro articulates his pleasure (or concern) over his divots the way Woods does.

        He practices forever, because he is a striver. Woods wants to be great. Also because, strictly speaking, he has nothing better to do.

No worries, just golf

        Tiger sits at a sweet spot in time: a magnificent talent, honed by a perfectionist's work ethic, unburdened by any larger responsibilities. It can be different when you have more than one garden to tend.

        In some respects, Woods is the 13-year-old at the country club during summer vacation. Play all you want, kid. Just charge it to our account.

        Who hasn't been in Woods' spot at some point in his life? The career trajectory is lifting off at 90 degrees, because you're young, free and if you're lucky, in love with what you're doing.

        The Memorial is still a prestigious win, even if it's missing Mickelson, Davis Love III and Duval. It's also Nicklaus' baby; Woods idolizes Nicklaus.

        It will be interesting to see what happens to Tiger when life intervenes. Marriage. Children. Responsibility. Because right now, all Woods really needs to do is play golf the way he can.

        He'll be doing just that today Don't bet against him.

        E-mail: Past columns at


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