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My So-Called Slump The author imagines how Tiger Woods, using his favorite medium, would respond to his harshest critics

June 10, 2003
June 10, 2003

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June 10, 2003

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Golf Plus

My So-Called Slump The author imagines how Tiger Woods, using his favorite medium, would respond to his harshest critics

Welcome to tigertimes.com, the only place to get my unfiltered
views on life (I'm digging the new PlayStation Matrix), rides
(I've driven Buicks at ad shoots; not horrible) and golf (most
guys would give up their firstborn for my so-called slump). What
they say on TV, what they write in the papers and magazines, most
of that stuff just makes me laugh, it's so off. Except for Golf
Digest, which is accurate because I think I own it. I'll be
asking Steinie--my agent, Mark Steinberg--about that later.

This is an article from the June 10, 2003 issue Original Layout

About my supposed slump. Haven't won a major in almost a year,
finished T29 in Germany a couple of weeks ago. Time to revamp the
swing! Phil Mickelson, with his supposedly superior equipment, has
won exactly how many majors in his 11 years as a pro? And how many
wins does he have this year? I've already won in San Diego and at
Bay Hill this year. For most guys, that's a career.

Last year I win the Masters, I win the U.S. Open at Bethpage, I
go to Muirfield for the British, and everybody's talking Grand
Slam, as if I haven't done that already. The Golf Channel feasts
on reruns of my wins in the 2000 U.S. Open, the 2000 British
Open, the 2000 PGA, the 2001 Masters. Most dominating run of golf
ever played, that's what Marko--my buddy Mark O'Meara--calls it.
If I hadn't won those four straight, if I hadn't won the first
two majors last year, would anybody be calling my "failure" to
win the last three majors a slump? Not a chance.

I open 70-68 at Muirfield. I'm two back. Saturday, I can't keep
my hat on, the wind's blowing so hard. My nose is a faucet, can't
breathe. I catch the worst of the weather--not making excuses,
just stating a fact--and I shoot the highest score of my pro
life, 81. Come back Sunday with 65. Nobody shot lower. Give me
even par on Saturday, I win by four.

Then there's the PGA at Hazeltine. I'm five back after three
rounds. Last four holes on Sunday: birdie, birdie, birdie,
birdie. I finish a shot out of a playoff. I like my chances in
playoffs. I've been in seven. I did lose one of them.

At Augusta this year I've got my C+ game. Fourth round, I'm
paired with one of the guys I actually admire, Chima, Jose Maria
Olazabal. I bomb a drive and hit a tremendous second on number 2,
the par-5. Practically nobody's reaching that green in two
anymore, and I've got maybe 12 feet for eagle. If I make it, I'm
three under and two back of Mags--Jeff Maggert, the 54-hole
leader. I should have made it, but I wasn't holing anything. My
two-putt birdie feels like a lost chance.

That's why Stevie--Steve Williams, my kick-ass caddie--is the
best in the game. He knows that when I'm mad, I can get another
22 to 27 yards on my full-throttle drives. The green coats pushed
the tee way up on 3 for the Sunday round. The hole was playing
330 yards. Stevie's thinking I can hit it just short of the
green, maybe on it, have something you can think about making for
a second shot. Even if I dink my drive, I'm looking at a little
lob wedge, something I can spin close on a green that's soft from
all that rain. An eagle or a no-work birdie on a hole where 4 is
a good score, that's huge. You've got that enormous gallery
around the 3rd green and stuffed into the bleachers on the 4th
tee. Do something big, and they're going to go crazy. Mags and
those guys are going to get the message that I'm making a move.

You have to know a little history in this game. I don't know
anybody on Tour who knows more golf history--not the
personalities, but the swings and the numbers--than I do. On
Sunday I started four shots back, just like Jack did in '86.
Arnold was seven back starting the last round at the U.S. Open at
Cherry Hills in '60, when he drove the green on the 1st, a
346-yard par-4, tapped in for birdie, got the crowd roaring and
won by two over Nicklaus. Sometimes you have to make your move
early. Stevie suggested driver. I was thinking two-iron. I know
that Nicklaus, in his life, has never hit driver there. But I
went with Stevie's suggestion. Didn't work out, that's all. Eight
times out of 10 it will. I guarantee you, Arnold knows exactly
what I was trying to do there and stands behind it. Bobby
Clampett, he questioned driver even before I hit it in the woods
and made a double-bogey 6, but where does Clampett play? In the
CBS trailer. Yes, I made a mistake, but only in retrospect.

One more thing about Augusta. A bunch of columnists and
Tigerologists said I blamed Stevie for hitting driver on 3 in my
postround interview with Peter Kostis. That's absurd. I answered
the question honestly. I explained how I made the decision to hit
driver: Stevie made a suggestion, I took the suggestion, I'm
responsible for the decision. I said, "Ultimately, it's the
player's call." Blaming the caddie is when you say, "My guy gave
me a bad yardage." I would never say that, even if he did. That's
bush.

Three majors still left this year: U.S. Open at Olympia Fields,
British Open at Sandwich, PGA Championship at Oak Hill. I'll be
trying to win all three, of course, but one at a time. If I win
one, it's a great year. If I win one major a year every year from
now until I'm 39, I'll have 21 professional majors, three more
than Jack. At 40 I might start a family and never hit a golf ball
in anger again.

Until then, for about 200 days a year--nontournament practice
days plus tournament weeks--it's all golf. I'm going to tell you,
right here and now, the thing I've figured out: There are 72
holes in a tournament and they all count the same. The 8th hole
on Friday? No different from the 18th on Sunday. I never let my
guard down, not for a single shot. Just keep grinding. TV makes
it seem that Sunday counts more. It doesn't.

People are saying, "He's won eight majors but always with the
lead or a piece of it after 54 holes." They're saying I can't win
coming from behind. No, I can win from behind and I will win from
behind, but you're always better off playing with a lead. You
have to know some statistics in this game. Only one guy has ever
won majors regularly by hanging around the lead, and that was
Jack. Of his 18 professional majors, he had the 54-hole lead or a
piece of it only 10 times. Arnold came from behind exactly once
in his seven majors, at Cherry Hills. Watson, with eight majors,
only twice didn't have the 54-hole lead. Look at my Friday
scoring average in the majors I've won: 67.25, about two strokes
better than my Sunday average. I've played in eight U.S. Opens.
Take the guy with the 36-hole lead in any of them. Give him an
even-par score for the final two rounds. He wins all the Opens
I've played in except one. You win the Open as much on Thursday
and Friday--keeping your concentration through those nearly
six-hour three-ball rounds--as you do on Saturday and Sunday,
playing with only one other guy and in under four hours. I like
my chances at Olympia Fields.

Arnold thinks I play like Arnold, but Jack knows I play a
different game than he did. Arnold has seen me drive it wild and
make some amazing recoveries, particularly at Bay Hill. Yes,
that's pure Arnold. But that's not how I play majors. I play
conservative golf in majors, though not as conservative as Jack.
Nicklaus never wanted to shoot 65 in the first round of a major
because he thought that put pressure on him to shoot 64 the next
round. He'd get himself in position on Sunday, wait for guys
ahead of him to get nervous, pick his spots to make his move. It
worked beautifully for him. I know because I've seen the tapes
and read the accounts. My approach is totally different. Take the
lead on Thursday, expand it on Friday, grow it more on Saturday,
win by a bunch come Sunday. Jack never won a Masters by 12.

But I know you only have to win by one, and I know I'm not going
to get to 21 majors or even 19 without winning from behind. They
used to say Jack couldn't chip because he had so little
experience at it, because he hit so many greens. I haven't had
that much experience trying to win professional majors from
behind. (I was a master at it in winning my three U.S. Amateurs,
but match play is a different game.) The last two majors--when
Rich Beem won the PGA at Hazeltine and when Mike Weir won at
Augusta--have been two of my best chances and I didn't get it
done, and that's why people are talking about my so-called
inability to come from behind. Some guys wrote that I "blinked"
when Beem played that torrid golf on the back nine on Sunday at
the PGA. Please. I hit a couple of bad putts, that's all, then
closed with those four birdies. I admit I tried to do too much
too early at Augusta this year. My whole thing is to always learn
and always improve.

I've got 11 majors between now and when I turn 30. I'll learn
something in each and every one of them. Historically, most guys
have played their best golf in their 30s. I expect to do the
same. Nicklaus has it right. Coming from behind, you wait for
others to make mistakes and you pick your spots to make your
moves. Arnold likes to say that Jack played "brainy" golf. You
have to play brainy golf to win from behind. Anybody who thinks I
can't do that, that just makes me laugh.

Everybody's talking about how long and tight Olympia Fields is.
Everybody's talking about Annika and Weirsy and Vijay. Perfect.
I'll just slip in quietly. Plan A is the usual: Be the 18-hole
leader, the 36-hole leader, the 54-hole leader, the winner. Plan
B: Win some other way.

COLOR PHOTO: WEBSITE: DARREN CARROLL (3); ROBERT BECKCOLOR PHOTO: JOHN W. MCDONOUGH FAULT LINE The experts say I blamed Stevie for a bad decision onthe 3rd hole at the Masters. Wrong! I take full responsibility.COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER COLD TRUTH I got caught in the worst of the weather on Saturdayat Muirfield, but I was low man the next day, with 65.COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK MAJOR STROKE Sure, I hit a couple of bad putts at Hazeltine, butI did finish with four straight birdies.