by Jeff Skinner
Phil Mickelson will still be flying high at The Northern Trust Open this week as he revels in his astonishing finish at Pebble Beach on Sunday. Phil certainly has good reason to be optimistic about his upcoming schedule but Tiger Woods has to have a few doubts about his own game.
In Tiger’s first two starts of the season he went into the last round of the tournaments within reach of a victory. At the Abu Dhabi Championship after adjusting to the greens during the first three rounds Woods had earned a share of the lead with Robert Rock. Rock went into the tournament as the 117th ranked golfer in the world and only one Euro Tour win on his resume. He was known more for his hair rather his golf game. The stage was set for Woods to show Rock and the world that he was back. He was supposed to crush Rock, hoist the trophy and shout to the world that he was back.
He shot 72 while Rock steadied himself for the onslaught that never came and shot a 70 that gave him the win over Woods, Rory and G-Mac. Woods spent much of the day shaking his head.
At Pebble Beach on Sunday the day was scripted for a legendary finish. Woods and Mickelson were paired together behind Charlie Wi and Ken Duke. Act one called for the leaders to fold and they did. Act two called for Phil and Tiger to go low and duel with each other in the Pebble Beach mist. Act three would be the dramatic finish with Phil and Tiger finishing each other off on the eighteenth green.
Phil did his part, with a sizzling 64 but Woods failed again on Sunday. Tiger could only manage a 75 and tumbled down the leaderboard. Tiger failing on Sunday? That never happened with the old Tiger. Sundays were his day to wear red, kick butt and take names. He ruled the world when he sniffed victory but it’s not that way any longer.
He has come very far with his fourth swing and for three rounds in each event he played well, not 2000 Tiger, but well enough to be near the lead on Sunday. And that is what is difficult to comprehend. Tiger falling down on Sunday…that just never used to happen.
They say that players need to learn how to win when they first come out on tour. It’s almost preposterous to say this but maybe Tiger has to learn how to win again. He is playing well enough to be in contention but is still struggling to close the deal.
Phil thinks Tiger is close and he should know. Until Sunday Phil had doubts about his own game and commented on those feelings of self-doubt that haunt golfers,”I know that it’s not easy to go through something like, that because I’ve been through it and so forth. But it can change in one week. Watching him play today, it’s going to change in one week. You could see, it’s such a night and day difference where the ball — he never hooked a shot. He used to hook, you were waiting for it and now he’s just striping it right at his target with a tiny little fade just like he used to do. And his iron play looked extremely sharp. I know the score wasn’t what he wanted and I know he didn’t putt the way he wanted to, but you could tell that he’s really close and all it takes is one week.
Here I am struggling the first couple of weeks, feeling like I’m close, knowing I’m close, and yet the scores are not reflecting it, and it just takes one week or one day in this case to turn it around.”
Like Phil, I am not ready to close the door on Tiger. He will never be the super human player he once was but he works too hard and is too gifted to not find whatever he is missing. Like Phil said all it takes is one week.