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With This Sad Crew Chasing, Tiger’s Safe at the Top

Jul. 22, 2010     By     Comments (16)

If anyone in the Top 5 had even a sliver of killer instinct, Woods would be long gone as king of the rankings.

Thrash TalkDoes anyone want to be number one in the world? It certainly doesn't seem that way. Not the way Tiger Woods has been downing mediocre pills this season, leaving the door wide open. Not the way Phil Mickelson has been squandering one opportunity after another to take over the top spot. Lee Westwood is playing the best golf in the world, but his wins come when the rest of the field collapses.

The title of "Number One in the World" has been so elusive for so long that it would be like England declaring they're holding a contest to replace the Queen. Would anyone be prepared to step in? The same is happening right now, as Tiger has obviously abdicated his throne. Sadly, no one wants to take over.

It's been a long eight months for Woods since that infamous Thanksgiving night fiasco. Through three majors he does have two fourth place finishes, but he wasn't a serious threat in either of those. At least not the way he used to be when stalking the lead. He showed a glimpse of his old form at St. Andrew's but like the rest of the season, there was nothing there in the end.

At least Woods provided us with some missing drama this week. Not really on the golf course, but with his decision to swap out his trusty Scotty Cameron putter for a Nike Method, before switching back on the weekend. Coming on the heels of flying solo without a swing coach, and relegating caddie Steve Williams to the dog house (there's no way he wasn't making a point after the U.S. Open by including Stevie's mistakes in his post-round interview), it's obvious he's grasping at something that will bring the magic back.

That's where Y.E. Yang comes in. For years, we have entered a Sunday with Tiger in the lead, knowing - KNOWING - that no one could chase him down. It was part of his aura, until an unknown Korean golfer stared him in the eye and took him down. Golf hasn't been the same since. Add in the off-course mess and Tiger Woods is a different golfer, and certainly not nearly the best in the world. Thanks to a flawed system by the Official World Golf Rankings, it will be a while until someone can unseat Woods at number one, especially given Mickelson's phobia of holding the crown.

Lee Westwood seems to have the best shot and he's playing great, but he's stating his case as the latest Phil Mickelson: Always in contention and always missing the crucial putts that would put him over the top. Could he break through at the PGA and add two or three more majors in the next few years? Sure, but it's just as likely he and Stricker (#4) battle it out for the third spot in the rankings the next 12 months. Then there's Jim Furyk at #5, which is one more guy we don't have to worry about ascending to the top.

The truth is, the Official Golf Rankings just aren't set up for quick changes. They're not even able to allow really slow changes. Justin Rose is having one of the best years on Tour and he's only ascended to 18th.

Bottom line, Tiger has a lot going on, but so long as this lackluster crew of Top Five contenders is chasing him, the top spot is safe.

Louis the Great
So funny to read how boring this Open was as Louis Oosthuizen ran off to a seven shot victory. Just goes to show how important a big name is, because had his name been Woods, Mickelson, or even McIlroy, it would be hailed as one of the greatest performances in the history of golf. Will Oosthuizen, march into the picture as best up and coming young 20-somethings? Who knows, but it's far better to have a 27 year old step to the forefront than a guy on the backside of his career who comes out of nowhere to win.

Give Me Rory
There haven't been many golfers since Tiger came onto the scene who can move the needle the way Rory McIlroy can. This week could have been his coming out party after his scintillating opening round. Obviously an 80 got in the way, but as dazzling as his first round was, I was just as impressed that he pulled it together on the weekend and managed a T3 finish. The kid's not only got game, but he's got the guts to match.

Old Course is King
In the weeks leading up to this Open, I've been reading a biography of Old and Young Tom Morris (Tommy's Honor by Kevin Cook) and it really gave me a different perspective of St. Andrew's and the history surrounding it. Obviously I've always know that the course is incredibly significant to the development of the game, but gaining an appreciation of Old Tom Morris' life and contributions to golf made the tournament all the more enjoyable. The book hit stores a few years ago, but I would strongly recommend it for golfers - history buffs or not.

Discussion

  1. A few quick comments.

    First, I think people put too much weight into Y.E. Yang's victory. He's not done much since, and with Tiger winning 14 of 14 prior, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Big deal. The rest of the field still collapsed. Anyone who says Tiger - still the world's best golfer by any measure other than "what have you done for me in the past week and a half" - is less intimidating now is mostly just trying to convince themselves.

    Second, the Open was boring because the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Let's compare this to Tiger's 12-shot victory in The Masters or his 15-shot victory in the U.S. Open. The first was Tiger's first major victory, came at a young age, and was at Augusta. The second was the most dominating performance many have ever seen - he was the only guy under par. Some of Tiger's other wins have been boring as well, but even during the boring routs, you feel that history is being made, and that adds to the excitement. Not so with semi-lucky Louis (lucky referring to his good draw - though, yes, others got the same draw and did diddly with it).

    Third, Mickelson falters every time he has a chance to overtake Tiger. Says a lot about him. He couldn't pass him in 2008 when Tiger was not playing golf and he can't pass him now when Tiger's still not playing up to the level he - and we - expect.

  2. bobsuruncle says:

    Tiger may be safe but as mentioned in the article, it's a factor of the way the rankings are calculated. Rankings aside, Tiger can no longer be regarded as the best player in the world. He's no longer head and shoulders above his peers. Where there was once a gap (in ability, mental fortitude, etc), that gap has closed - and not because his peers caught up to him, but Tiger has "fallen" a notch. He's now just one of the best players in the world i.e. he's become one of his peers.

  3. Nick Kim says:

    Its commonly known as the Tiger Woods effect I believe. Golfers for the past 10 years have been scared of him from 1996 to 2006 data was analyzed and they scored an average 1 stroke higher when he is on the course. I do not believe him to be Number 1 in the world, but he is definitely top 5 and will probably return to number 1 soon enough.

    http://www.slate.com/id/2182671

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303960604575158122511930684.html

  4. kieran says:

    Sorry, but Tiger should still be regarded as the best golfer in the world....who else would be? Just because someone stops winning almost every tournament they enter, doesn't mean they're not number one. Phil doesn't win everything, Westwood doesn't win everything. Tiger came 4th in 2 of 3 Majors, and played steady golf at The Open Championship. His putting is bad, but this is Tiger, he WAS the best putter in the world. People are far too quick to discount him now. Tiger has fixed his driver, irons are getting better, and now all he needs is his putter.

    Tiger has been down and out before....but does no one remember he came back and won many tournaments then too?

    Phil will never take number one, because he can't play the mental game like Tiger.

    I can't wait for Tiger to win again, so everybody can stop discounting him.

  5. jamo says:

    You barely even mentioned Steve Stricker, who just shot -26 to win the John Deere two weeks ago. He has more wins than anyone in the top 10 (and presumably the world, I just didn't take the time to check) not named after a jungle cat in the last 2 years.

  6. Ron Varrial says:

    You barely even mentioned Steve Stricker, who just shot -26 to win the John Deere two weeks ago. He has more wins than anyone in the top 10 (and presumably the world, I just didn't take the time to check) not named after a jungle cat in the last 2 years.
    jamo

    You're right, I barely mentioned Stricker. His results in the past 6 majors (starting with this past British Open and working back): T55, T58, T30, CUT, T52, T23.
    In fact, since 2008, he has one Top 10 at a major (T6 at 2009 Masters) and has more missed cuts than top 20 finishes.

    He's a very good golfer. But let's not confuse a guy with back-to-back John Deere titles and who is a non-factor in most majors with major champions such as Woods, Mickelson and Els, or even Westwood who at least knocked on the door multiple times.

  7. Ron Varrial says:

    Erik,
    Good points, as always. However, I really think you're discounting the invincibility factor that Tiger had. He was always the best golfer, and had the strongest mental game. Guys really did melt when he was in the field, either because they felt they had to do too much, or simply felt the heat. Yang might only be they symbol and the guy lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. But bottom line is that the psyche is a crazy thing, and everyone on Tour saw someone -- anyone! -- look Tiger in the eye down the stretch and beat him head to head. Whether he passes Jack or not, I think we'll always look back at that PGA as a game changer, if for not other reason as it was the first time he wasn't invincible in the lead.

  8. Michael Shindler says:

    Does this remind anyone else of the 2008 Bridgestone Invitational? It seemed that week that Tiger had won so many instances of that event because no one else wanted to win. When he was absent, it felt like every time someone had the lead, he took a double bogey to get rid of it.

  9. JB says:

    Y.E Yang slew the Tiger.
    As for not doing much since.... Reminder; He's was in the top 10 all week at The Masters and on Sunday and they didn't show one shot of his, not even a putt. Odd huh?

  10. Andreas says:

    I don't know why people think Louis's victory at the open was lucky... he played incredible golf over 4 straight days. He won the tournament himself by leaving the other guys behind whereas some of the other major victors over the past few years were almost handed the victory due the competition dropping off the pace (McDowell, Cink, Glover and Cabrerra). 17 under was not too shabby

  11. Chris says:

    Andreas

    I think the comment by Erik on Louis' luck is valid, he did get the best of the weather in the first 2 days (esp Friday by which time he had a big lead) and had a few good breaks including a shot that should have gone OB but bounced back off a wall. That said, he richly deserved his victory and did so in style.

  12. The Recreational Golfer says:

    Tiger wins big and it's historic. Louis wins big and it's boring. ???

    I wasn't bored at all watching the final round of the British. I could spend all day watching someone hit shot after shot just the way he wanted to.

    As for no one moving into the number one slot, this reinforces the idea that there might be more good golfers now than in Jack's era, but fewer (only one, really) great one.

  13. Tiger wins big and it's historic. Louis wins big and it's boring.???

    Yes, that's exactly the case.

    First, Louis didn't win by 12 or 15. Second, this wasn't major victory number six, ten, or twelve for Louis, but number one.

    Both of those things make Tiger winning far more "historic" than Louis winning.

  14. Joe Dean says:

    I have to agree with Ron on this one Erik. Tiger's loss to Yang is the difining "undesirable" moment in his golf career... and it has set the precedent for the uncharacteristic golf that followed that event. While it was bound to happen sometime, (Tiger getting beat down the stretch), Y. E. Yang really didn't seem scared of Tiger at all! He hit a career hybrid into 18 green, then sunk a hell of a breaking putt for birdie. Tiger may not have been up to the challenge that day, but Yang didn't hold his hand out waiting on Tiger to give it to him... Yang took what was his, then poured a little salt on Tiger's wounds in the process.

    My piont is... when that match was over, I didn't look at Tiger the same anymore. It was the way it happened. It was the way we all looked at our TV's and said "damn, that actually just happened!!" Sure, Yang hasn't done anything since, but that wasnt the point Ron was making. No matter how you slice it, Tiger is slightly less intimidating now than before. Though it may be "slightly less", it is still a measurable difference.

    As for your question of "is anyone even interested" in being World #1... I would say the same thing about holding the FedEx Cup. Its as if Mickelson could care less... like the Cup is a joke...?

  15. ghalfaire says:

    I agree with Ron and Joe on this one. When Y. E. Yang chased down Tiger on Sunday, Tiger learned Tiger was not invincible and I believe that changed him. I don't discount the affect of the off course activity disclosures but I believe that Sunday was the beginning of Tiger beginning to doubt Tiger. He is still the best golfer active today and in lack of anyone else stepping forward deserves to be #1 as much as anyone else on tour.

  16. Ron says:

    I think you can discount Tiger this season, but not in the future. He has to many other things going on in his head at the moment, but when that is all cleared up and he is only thinking of golf he will be back. You do not lose that talent at his age. I would not be surprised if he does win a tournament this year, but he will not dominate again until next year.

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