Monday, July 19, 2010

Louis and Tiger

Sunday afternoon Louis Oosthuizen, a 27 year-old South African, strolled around the Old Course in St. Andrews, Scotland.  He shot 71, adding two shots to his previous round as he had done each day since his opening round 65.  He led by four on the first tee.  He made his first bogey in 24 holes on number eight, but followed it up with an eagle. Thanks for coming.  He would go on to win by seven, but don't let the scoreboard deceive you.  It wasn't that close.

Golf tournaments aren't won by seven strokes.  At the PGA Tour event this week in Reno, NV Matt Bettencourt won by a stroke.  Twenty-five guys finished within seven.  On the Champions Tour, Larry Mize won by a stroke. On the Nationwide Tour--well who actually knows what happened on the Nationwide Tour this week. If you go to the PGA website, Peter Tomasulo shot 261 and won by a stroke.  If you click on the full leaderboard link on that page, Tommy Gainey is your man.  Either way he didn't win by seven.  It doesn't happen.

In the 29 PGA Tour stroke play events contested so far this year, 23 have either gone to a playoff or been won by one or two strokes.  None have been decided by more than five. Six of the previous twelve Open Championships have gone to a playoff.  It doesn't happen.

But it can happen.  On the same St. Andrews course they played this weekend, Tiger Woods won by eight strokes in 2000.  That was his coronation season.  He had just destroyed the field at the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach winning by an incomprehensible 15 shots.  A few weeks later he would go on to win the PGA Championship as well.  From there...well you know the story.

Louis and Tiger are now forever linked in the history books.  Between them they have won the last three Open Championships at St. Andrews.  Tiger won by an whopping eight strokes in 2000 and Louis won by seven in 2010.  What will they look like when they return to St. Andrews in 2015?

Louis is 27.  He won his first European Tour event in March of this year, but he's probably better known for winning the Masters Par 3 Contest in April.  He missed the cut in seven of the eight majors he entered before this week, but he is ranked in the top 50 in the world. This week he hit it long and straight.  He took the lead and ran away from the field. This week, Louis was Tiger.

That role was available because Tiger wasn't himself. After an opening 67 he failed to break par.  He moved down the leaderboard every day. He started the tournament with a new putter, but it didn't make it into the bag on Sunday.  In four days he didn't make any eagles.  He played the par 5s in a pedestrian one-under par. This year the three majors have been played at Augusta, Pebble and St. Andrews, courses where Tiger has won seven of his 14 majors. He didn't win any of the three and he hasn't won anywhere else. He currently stands 77th on the money list.

Where will they go from here?

Golf is filled with fabulous players who only won one major.  David Duval won the Open Championship by three shots in 2001.  It was his thirteenth PGA Tour win and first major. Many majors were in his future.  He's thirty-eight and hasn't won any event since.  Davis Love III won the PGA in 1997 by five strokes.  Goose egg.  David Toms won the PGA in 2001, Mike Weir the Masters in 2003, Jim Furyk, the U.S. Open the same year.  Nothing. Tom Kite, Fred Couples, Lanny Wadkins, Hal Sutton and Paul Azinger all were predicted to win multiple majors when they hoisted their first trophy.  They haven't.

Golf is also filled with no-names who have won one as well.  Gary Player isn't going to be inviting Mark Brooks, Rich Beem, Shaun Micheel or Paul Lawrie to join him at the PGA Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, FL unless it's on one of the ads that I'm sure we'll see 100 times when they tee it up at Whistling Straits in a couple weeks.

If I were going to lay down your money, I'd bet we never see Louis again.  Does he want to come play the U.S. Tour full time?  That will help his chances of winning another, but who knows.  He is a nice story, but he cost himself some of the feel good spotlight by winning so dominantly.  With no Americans in contention and no drama building I'm sure viewers over here moved on.  ABC can't be pleased.

As always, Tiger is the more interesting story.  The best sportswriter in America just wrote a great piece about Tiger and how nobody has ever underestimated him, how no one is writing him off now.  He suggests taking a closer look.  He ponders that maybe it has just stopped being his time.

I don't think you can compare Tiger to anyone in the past, so I'm not sure we have any frame of reference with which to make a judgment.  But the past four months have told us something.  Tiger hasn't won in seven events.  You can argue he hasn't even contended even though he finished fourth at both the Masters and U.S. Open.  Has his aura cracked, is age catching up, is the TMZ drama is his personal life too much for him to overcome?

I'm guessing no.  But, coming into this past week, if I had been told a golfer would win the Open Championship by seven strokes, I would have sold my parents' house to get dough down on Tiger.  It didn't happen.  Now are we really left to genuinely ask who will win first, Louis or Tiger?  I think we are.  And that's the beauty of sports.  There is always somebody coming along.

Hello Louis.  Goodbye Tiger?

That's probably too dramatic, but I hope somebody looks back and pairs these guys together during the first two days of the Open Championship in 2015 when they come back to St. Andrews.  It will be interesting to see how it all unfolded.


James said...

Great article. Given the conditions under which he played, Louis demonstrated that he really has the game, the poise and the self-confidence to win again. Tiger use to have it, but now, not so much. My money's on Louis until and unless we see the old Tiger again.

evan said...

Great piece. I'm no golf expert, so it may be an inapt comparison on many levels, but the fall and slide (vs. rise again) kind of reminds me of Tyson. Dominant in the sport, terrified every competitor, won in large part because he believed he could not be beaten. You could just see opponents freeze up when he took off the towel. Once he lost, that edge was gone.

Granted, getting knocked out is a lot different than missing a putt, and the effects probably run a bit deeper. And Tiger is not headed for the WWF, just playing in the pack rather than a mile ahead of it. But the parallels are interesting. Tyson won the heavyweight title at 20, youngest heavyweight champ ever, and took 26of his first 28 fights by KO - a pretty amazing stat in itself. But the speed with which he took opponents apart was unilke anyone before him - of 26 KOs (and 28 total fights), Tyson won an incredible 16 by first-round KO. Seasoned pros were terrified to get in the ring with him. Then he started to lose it personally, and finally professionally, as Buster Douglas took him out in probably the greatest sports upset ever. Tyson came back and fought decently for a few matches, but never dominantly. When he lost to Holyfield it began a long slide.
Not saying Tiger is anywhere near as precarious emotionally as Iron Mike, but both sports have big psychological components, and fear is a great tool when it's on your side ...

llama said...

Come on you really think the goblins in between Tigger's ears are going to vanish someday ??? Multiply this thought by a thousand times:
"second hole and you just missed a gimme 30" putt"...and now for the rest of your round/life you have doubt/doubters....get it?? The armor has been severely kinked !!! He knows everyone perceives him differently and not in good light.
That has to wear on even the biggest ego !!!
Give me the five hottest golfers at anytime and you can have Tiger for a wager we will leave undisclosed (dble it in any major)

Anonymous said...

Nice post - readers who don't closely follow golf, nor find it very entertaining, will enjoy it. I did.