Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my! The PGA Tour has been a little ill at ease for the last few years. Why?
Their number one player has been on the endangered species list.
Tiger Woods’ last major win was the 2002 U.S. Open, his eighth major.
After his victory Golf Digest asked their readers if they thought Woods would break Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors…73 percent said yes. The same question was posed two years later and 71 percent said no. The reason was obvious. Since June 2002, Tiger was in seclusion as Phil Mickelson and others squabbled to share Woods’ vacated territory.
However, from the gaggle of golfers seeking the top of the food chain, Vijay Singh proved to be the King of Beasts with a flurry of victories, 14 if you’re counting, all of them since 2002. Trouble is nobody really knew about it and nobody really cared. The Lion label never really stuck with Singh…and everyone was still betting on the Tiger.
Well, the Tiger seemed to find his swing and his way back, only now he’s sporting green stripes and all seems to be at peace in the PGA Kingdom. It’s amazing how everyone perks up and takes notice when the Tiger’s back in town. Woods truly has an aura of danger about him. Even his rivals watch him ever so closely, slump or no slump. As a player, I would think you would always keep your eye on the Tiger, as you would never know when he may turn and eat you. Chris DiMarco found that out on the Master’s 16th hole. The Tiger’s lead was down to one with DiMarco in deadly pursuit. Tiger’s ball lay 40 feet from the cup with a cliff-drop slope to the hole. The Tiger carefully eyed the situation, crouched and pounced. DiMarco could do nothing but watch helplessly as he was devoured alive. Even when Tiger stumbled on 17 and 18 he still had bite, finding DiMarco’s jugular on the first hole of the “sudden death” playoff.
His win at the Masters wasn’t pretty. In fact, he proved vulnerable, but he still is 9-0 when holding the lead after 54-holes at a major championship.
While he might not be as dominate as he was during his run of victories, 7 out of 11 majors, he can take some acclaim for helping sharpen the image of Golf’s Big Four which include the Tiger hunters Els, Singh and Mickelson. If nothing else, wearing the Green Jacket allows speculation about his quest to reach 18 major wins. Woods now has nine majors at the ripe old age of 29. He trails only the Golden Bear (Nicklaus) and Hag (11) and is currently tied with Hogan and Player. Good company no matter how you slice it.
Can the Tiger really catch the Bear? Well he’s stealthily tracking Nicklaus and is closing fast.
Woods has won nine of his first 33 majors as a pro, Nicklaus had seven. Woods has gone 10 majors, twice, without a win; Nicklaus’ longest drought was 12. After the drought, the Bear went 7 for 22. The next 5 years will tell the tale.
This much I do know: The Golden Bear was strong, cunning and relentless. He would often lull his prey into thinking he was harmless, and then he would crush them with a ferocious charge to the green, swatting clutch putts in the hole with ease. The Golden Bear was magical.
Tiger on the other hand is a clutch performer in his own right, capable of striking at any given moment. Watching his eyes read a green is purely predatory. He displays his dangerous power in the fairway with extremely long drives. He wards off hard-charging opponents and chases down leading opposition like it’s cat’s play. And on one incredible afternoon in Augusta, Tiger reminded everyone in the PGA Kingdom he’s still the No. 1 player in the world and is truly one of a kind.
Editors note – David Gumucio also wrote the column in Tuesday’s edition.