From the Rough

Golf without discretion

Think Tiger can catch Jack? One brilliant man doesn’t think so

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Everything was aligned for Tiger Woods prior to the 2010 season. Augusta National. Pebble Beach. St. Andrews. If ever there was a year where Tiger Woods was going to make his biggest push towards Jack Nicklaus’ 18 major championships, this was the year. It was now or never.

While it was hard to put Woods on the clock as he entered what was supposed to be the prime of his career, there were some out there who were starting to question if the greatest golfer on the planet had enough in the tank to pick up six more majors.

But with three of Woods’ major championship playgrounds on the slate, it felt like the stars were aligned for one monumental year that would silence most — if not all — of the critics. Then came the accident; and the infidelity; and like the endorsement deals Woods had previously, his dream of putting a serious dent in Nicklaus’ number went by the wayside.

Walking off the putting green on Sunday at St. Andrews, Woods looked nothing like the conquering hero of 2000 and 2005, when he not only assaulted the “home of golf” but every player in the field during those two weeks. What once was considered Tiger’s year was gone in a flash.

Three weeks of golf at three of his favorite courses, and all he had to show for it was a battered ego and a couple of decent finishes. And just like that, Tiger’s chance of catching Jack started to disappear.

With Whistling Straits still remaining on the 2010 major championship schedule, there’s still one last shot for Woods; but as of right now it appears he’ll go o-fer at the majors for the second straight year.

The missed opportunities bring up a loaded question — one that’s been kicked around for the last couple of months: Will Tiger still catch Jack?

After missing out at Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, the question now becomes a valid one. While most still figure Woods will find his championship form in the near future, there’s one man who believes Jack will still reign supreme at the end of the day.

As John Strege noted on GolfDigest.com’s Local Knowledge blog, Charles Murray (co-author of the highly controversial book “The Bell Curve”) doesn’t think it’ll happen, and here’s why:

Murray argues that players like Woods and Nicklaus possess qualities he terms “freakish,” including, in Woods’ case, his ability to hole important putts at critical junctures of tournaments, including the last hole with the tournament hanging in the balance.

“That’s not just a matter of reading the greens accurately and having a good putting stroke,” Murray writes. “It’s a product of a mental state that the rest of us can barely imagine, the product of a Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths–including, one sometimes suspects, telekinesis.

“The role of those psychological strengths is why so much of the commentary about Woods’s play since he returned is beside the point. The commentators focus on whether his component skills are returning to their pre-scandal levels. He can return to precisely the same place on the bell curves of the component skills that he occupied before the meltdown in his personal life, but the package will not be the same. Tiger Woods has experienced a sort of concussion to that Chinese puzzle of psychological strengths, and there must be some residual damage that won’t ever go away.

What Murray is telling us is that while Tiger has the “mental game” to be better than most, his recent personal issues can’t be avoided when it comes to his overall game. As soon as one cornerstones was pulled from the fortress, the rest was bound to come down with it. And no matter how hard Woods tries to put those bricks back into place, things will never be as they were prior to the “meltdown.”

“The long-term effects can be quite small. When we are talking about the extremes of human accomplishment, there is no wiggle room. The package changed at all is no longer at the one-in-many-millions extreme that is required. Woods will still be a sensational golfer, winning a lot of tournaments and probably a few more majors. But to predict that Woods can win five majors between now and the end of his career–something that only 17 other golfers have done in their entire careers–assumes that nothing in the last year has significantly degraded the freakish combination required for extreme accomplishment. I find that assumption untenable.”

While it’s hard to even fathom going against Woods, I tend to agree with most of Murray’s thoughts. Maybe the record isn’t so attainable after all.

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Written by Jonathan Wall

07/22/2010 at 4:30 pm

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