America finally found someone who can beat Tiger Woods. That
man, ladies and gentlemen, is Tiger Woods. This unexpected
development occurred just as many of us were not only conceding
his third straight victory, at the MasterCard Colonial, but also
extrapolating that he would win this week at the Memorial and
again in his next start, at the U.S. Open. At that point, with
five consecutive victories and on the scent of Byron Nelson's
seemingly unbreakable record of 11 wins in a row, Woods would be
halfway to the Grand Slam and ready to run for president. We
forgot that golf is a game played by mortals and that the
21-year-old Woods is one. He's stoppable--although Tigermania
may not be.
First, let's examine how Woods snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory in Fort Worth and tied for fourth with Paul Goydos. For
three days he mastered the vaunted Colonial Country Club course
as if he had pulled it out of a paint-by-the-numbers kit. With
fast fairways, soft greens and no wind, pretty much everyone
did. Brad Faxon put up a 63 in the first round, as did eventual
winner David Frost on Friday. David Ogrin ran off six straight
birdies while shooting 62 in the third round. Everything changed
on Sunday, when swirling, unpredictable winds produced swirling,
unpredictable results. Ogrin added 10 strokes to what he shot
the day before. A self-styled disciple of the art of putting,
Ogrin lost his touch, badly missing a pair of key five-footers.
"The putter became a foreign object on the final nine holes," he
said. "It came from Remulak."
Woods lost his distance control, which led to the two double
bogeys that cost him the three-peat. He dropped an eight-iron
shot into the pond in front of the 9th green for one, and then,
needing a birdie at the 17th to tie Frost, he inexplicably blew
a sand wedge halfway to Remulak, ran his pitch back through the
green and into the front bunker, and made another 6.
Frost, a native of South Africa who has lived in Dallas since
1985, kept scrambling for nondescript pars, then holed a 25-foot
putt for birdie at the 17th and, before anyone knew it, had
crocheted a cunning 67 and was wearing the blinding red-plaid
champion's jacket. Frost has won 10 times, but not since the
1994 Greater Hartford Open, and he racked up major trivia points
last week for becoming the first player to win a Tour event in
spikeless shoes. He also earned Mr. Fix-it points for adding
weight to the bottom of his putter 10 minutes before he teed off
on Sunday because in shortening the club to 33 inches earlier in
the week he had made it feel too light.
June 1, 1997
Frost earned no points with Woods when he was asked how he felt
about beating Tiger. "I don't feel sorry for him," Frost said.
Reporters weren't feeling sympathetic either after Woods
declined to speak with them, and his security people, going
against Tour policy, closed the locker room after booting two
writers at Woods's request.
Yet Tigermania continues unabated. On the Monday of Colonial
week Woods made the leap from golf endorsements to the world of
real money by signing a $13 million deal with American Express,
which was viewed as a bit of credit card one-upmanship
considering who was sponsoring the tournament. The next day he
discussed the greens--collard greens, one assumes--over lunch
with Fuzzy Zoeller and closed the book on a national
controversy, something Woods could've done weeks earlier if he
had taken the advice of Mark O'Meara and returned one of
Zoeller's many phone calls.
The reality of Tigermania is that it's bigger and broader than
anyone realizes. The phenomena range from little stuff--a wooded
lot across the street from Colonial with the sign PARK IN THE
SHADE OF THE TIGER WOODS $20 and the hawking of
orange-and-black-striped periscopes called Eye of the Tiger--to
big stuff like sellouts at tournaments in which Woods plays, and
officials scrambling to deal with the chaos caused by the huge
increase in fans, media and traffic. Two weeks ago at the Byron
Nelson Classic and again last week, reporters and photographers
were barred from tee boxes because of the crush, something that
had never been done on Tour, except at the Masters.
The question How big is too big? had been asked only at the Tour
stops in Hartford and Phoenix, which draw massive crowds. Now
it's an issue every place Woods tees it up. The problem is made
worse because Woods usually won't commit to playing in an event
until the Friday before tournament week, giving officials little
time to prepare. Grandstands, which are used to good effect at
the British Open, and skyboxes may be needed behind many more
greens, in addition to more security--Woods was assigned 12
marshals and two guards at Colonial--more rest rooms, more
shuttle buses and more concession stands. Many tournaments are
about to experience sudden growing pains, courtesy of Woods.
Financially, Tigermania has been a windfall. The presence of
Woods clearly was a factor when the money the Tour receives in
rights fees almost doubled in recent television negotiations.
When Woods is in contention, the TV ratings skyrocket. The TV
money will allow the Tour to double tournament purses, to about
$3 million per event, by the year 2000. Woods has also raised
the bar on appearance fees. He commanded $1.8 million--$1.3
million this year and $500,000 for appearances in 1998 and
'99--to play in a one-day pro-am near Pittsburgh. Beat that,
The intense focus on Woods has caused the inevitable backlash
among some players. Is Tigermania good for golf, they wonder, or
just good for Tiger? An undercurrent of envy, sometimes
bordering on jealousy, is evident. Who wouldn't be peeved when
even The New York Times headlined its first-round story from
Fort Worth WOODS 4 BACK OF LEADER?
Justin Leonard, who grew up in Dallas, opened with a 64 and for
a time was tied for the first-round lead, yet no one wanted to
talk about his game. "When you shoot six under and get asked
about Tiger right away, that's a negative," he said. When Brian
Henninger was brought into the press room last Thursday, he
mockingly asked, "Doesn't anybody have a Tiger question?"
Faxon spoofed Woods's comments from the week before, telling
reporters, "I didn't have my A game today. It was a C minus. But
I'm flying in my coaches tomorrow."
Earlier Faxon had explained to Woods that Tiger had bruised some
fragile egos when he said he had won the Nelson despite not
playing his best. Some players found Woods's references to
winning with his C game to be insulting. Woods says he was only
being honest but, heeding Faxon's advice, also stopped grading
his performances. "I'm not going to use any more letters," he
Between the ropes the players fall into two camps: those who
respect Woods's game and those who fear him. "A lot of guys like
it when he takes four weeks off, to tell you the truth," Faxon
says. "But the better players want him here. They want to beat
him. They don't want an asterisk if they win."
Ogrin, who took a one-shot lead into the final round and was
paired with Woods, reinforced Faxon's point. "There is no
question in anybody's mind that Tiger Woods is the best golfer
in the world today," Ogrin said. "You've got to want to play
Tiger the way you've got to want to face Michael Jordan or Greg
Facing Tiger means dealing with a large, noisy gallery jockeying
for viewing position. Woods had 10 straight rounds in the 60s
after his first-round 70 at Augusta and from the Masters on has
been 69 shots lower than the players he has been paired with.
During that span none of his playing partners have beaten him.
Ogrin, who tied Faxon for second, at least matched Woods's 72 on
Sunday and offered a critique on Tiger's game. "If there's a
potential weakness," he said, "it's how do you finesse a
190-yard eight-iron? His club head is hitting the ball so hard
that he's going to find situations where it's difficult to keep
the ball in the ballpark. He's a very quick learner and
phenomenal around the greens, probably the best I've seen since
So Woods lost this one. It happens. He's 21, remember? His list
of victories didn't grow at Colonial, but his impact did, in
ways we don't even realize.
"Don't think that Tiger is the last one," Ogrin said. "There's a
kid from my hometown, San Antonio, who's going to Baylor next
year who hits it just like Tiger--just like him. He's Jimmy
Walker, and there're 10 more like him. Tiger is just the first
wave of guys who are going to play like this."
Yeah? Tell them to hurry. Tigermania waits for no one.