March 2, 2008

Tiger needs more than "paper competition"Ö

If the newspapers and magazines are to be believed, European Tour players are more interested in finding someone to challenge Tiger Woods than the American players are.

Think about it for a second.

The Europeans continue to push Ernie Els and all the younger players as potential heirs apparent to Tiger and, for the most part, the players themselves believe they can do it.

Contrast that with the comments of players on the US Tour who continue to beat themselves mentally with every "Tiger is Tiger, cannot beat him when heís on" type comments.

Tiger romped during the last WGC Match Play event, as he did during the last three years, but the most exciting and challenging matches for him came from the international players.

Aaron Baddeley, an Australian, took Tiger to the wall and matched him birdie for birdie Ė 22 birdies in all. If you calculated their combined scores as "best ball", they wouldíve shot 58. This was one of those times that neither side blinked until the 2nd play-off hole.

Even Tiger was impressed with Baddeley.

In the old days, if you didnít win or finish high enough you didnít eat. Nowadays, you can earn a pretty good income just making the cut in tournaments, so the drive to provide for your family seems a bit lax.

One of the dirty secrets on the US Tour is the mentality of "playing for the number two spot and hope number one screws up." While there is some logic to it as there is less pressure than being the leader of the event going into the last round, it somehow seems somewhat defeatist.

Tiger Woods believes that he should win every event that he enters and finishing second is a failure. Yes, this might be considered to be egotistical by some, but itís not Ďegotistical" if you can back it up. Youíre either confident in your abilities and chances, or youíre not.

Tiger is confident and relishes the thought of leading the event going into the third day and the US players have already convinced themselves that Tiger is unbeatable in those circumstances.

So, if Tiger is so unbeatable and can easily romp through the World Golf Match play Championships year after year, why does his Ryder Cup record stink? Heís 3-6-1 Ė meaning he loses more than he wins.

Could it be that, while the Europeans respect him, they arenít trembling in their shoes when facing him one on one?

When you play stroke play, everyone is playing the course until the final day and then the last 3-4 groups are essentially playing stroke play but with match play dynamics. The player most likely to beat them is who they are paired with for that round.

In stroke play itís easy to get lost in your own little world, but straight-up match play puts your opponent right in your face from start to finish and itís a hole-by-hole fight. Make a triple bogey and it doesnít matter as its only one hole. Itís a psychologically different game altogether and this is where strong faith in yourself can give you the winning edge.

There is no doubt that Tiger Woods will undoubtedly go down in history as one of the greatest players who ever lived, but he still puts his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else and to enter an event believing that "second place is good enough because Tiger will win anyway" is the attitude of a loser.

Personally, I would love to see some younger players step up and make Tiger earn his wins, just like Baddeley did. Great champions should be forged in the fire of competition, but if those fires are mere embers we might never see exactly how good Tiger Woods actually is.

The fact of the matter is that every champion had an equally devastating opponent who pushed him to the limit.

Ali had Frazier, Palmer had Nicklaus, Nicklaus had Watson, Rocky Balboa had Hulk Hogan, Apollo Creed and Mr. T.

Right now, Tiger is playing against the record books rather than against the competitors. So, if he really wants to prove his prowess as a great champion, perhaps he should play more events on the European Tour.

You against people who wonít fall down on the first tee.

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