Tuesday, July 3, 2012

July 2, 2012

Late Sunday afternoon many Indiana golfers escaped the torrid heat by sitting on their air conditioned couches watching Tiger Woods bounce Bo Van Pelt on the final two holes at Congressional GC in Washington D.C. Van Pelt, a native of Richmond, put up a game effort. But, he ultimately succumbed to the hottest player in professional golf.
Yep, that’s right. Tiger Woods is now the hottest player in the world of golf. Sunday’s victory is his third win in just seven starts on the PGA Tour in 2012. It’s an impressive start to a season that places Woods as the frontrunner to become the PGA Tour “Comeback Player of the Year”.
Unfortunately for Tiger, his career is now being defined by many on whether or not he will surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship titles. There was no better evidence of this, than at the conclusion of Sunday’s CBS telecast.
The normally unflappable Jim Nantz expressed angst over the fact that many judge Tiger’s recent accomplishments solely on his inability to win majors. “He’s back. Are you kidding? Tiger Woods is the first three-time winner on the PGA Tour this year. When will it stop?” said Nantz.
The Emmy award winning golf analyst observed that if Woods stays healthy he will probably compete on the PGA Tour for at least ten more years. That potentially represents over 40 starts in majors and certainly, Woods will have opportunities to win five more major championships.
“Five majors is a career for a lot of great players,” said Nick Faldo, himself a winner of six majors. Faldo’s perspective might be the most insightful of the summer when you consider the following.
Byron Nelson and Seve Ballesteros each won five majors during their careers. Phil Mickelson and Raymond Floyd join Old and Young Tom Morris as four-time major championship winners. Jimmy Demaret, Billy Casper, Vijay Singh, Hale Irwin, Ernie Els, Julius Boros, Payne Stewart, Padraig Harrington and Nick Price each won three.
Are you starting to see Faldo’s picture? Pick any pair on this list of two-time major winners and Woods will have to beat their combined efforts to overtake Nicklaus- Ben Crenshaw, Fuzzy Zoeller, Curtis Strange, Greg Norman and Johnny Miller. As you can see, even though Woods has 14 major championships in his grasp, winning five more will be an incredible feat.
Think about it. If Tiger beats Jack’s record he will have to win as many majors as Ernie Els and Greg Norman have combined for in their careers. And the next time Miller and Strange, both TV personalities, doubt Tiger’s resurgence remind them that Woods currently has 10 more major championships than they combined for!
And lest we forget about Nicklaus, who with 18 majors has won as many as Gary Player (9) and Ben Hogan (9) combined. Or, who has won more than Tom Watson (8) and Arnold Palmer (7) combined. Or, who has won more than Faldo (6), Lee Trevino (6) and Byron Nelson (5) combined.  
The final two majors of 2012 will be played in the next six weeks. The Open Championship will be staged at Royal Lytham and St. Annes Golf Club. This English links course is located north of London and is known for having the five most grueling finishing holes in the Open rotation. Look for the weather to be cool, blustery and wet. David Duval (2001), Tom Lehman (1996) and Seve Ballesteros (1979) are the last three Open champions at Lytham.
The PGA Championship will take place in early August at The Ocean Course on Kiawah Island in South Carolina. This Pete Dye design promises to be extremely challenging. As cool as Lytham will likely be, Kiawah should be sweltering in August. Kiawah has hosted a Ryder Cup and a Senior PGA, but this will be its first major championship on the regular Tour.
I saw David Feherty interview Tom Lehman the other night and he asked the former Open Champion about the current state of the game. Lehman said, “Golf is like all sports. It needs dominating players to help produce great rivalries. That’s the only thing that concerns me about today’s young players. I don’t know if we have that.”
That interview was taped on Memorial Day. Since then, Tiger Woods has won two tournaments and re-established himself as the number one player in golf. To Lehman’s point, dominance may have resurfaced with Woods, although to a lesser degree than we once saw from the great Tiger.
It’s been Woods against the world for the past couple of years. Odds makers have installed him as the favorite to win the last two majors of 2012. Tiger is back and that is a good thing for golf. Will he win five more majors and pass Jack? History and the careers of a bunch of great players would say no.
Have you ever seen a Tiger with a monkey on its back?   

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