Tiger Woods - When it rains, it pours



As a long-time Tiger fan and a happily married father of three (not to mention an golf fanatic), I guess it's my time to weigh in on the Tiger Woods situation.

I bought into the Tiger phenomenon years ago, and am one of the missing TV viewers whenever Tiger's missing from the field. I've always contended that while many pros, most notably Phil Mickleson, tend to wither under pressure and the spotlight, Tiger almost always shines. Until recently I believed that Tiger was a shoe-in to surpass Jack on the all-time majors win list. I loved watching Tiger pitch a ball onto the green at Augusta and watching roll through impossible undulations and drop perfectly into the cup, Nike logo and all, or or seeing him roll and bounce a 12 footer home to break Rocco's heart. Ironically, I recently told my wife that I'd love a TW logo cap for a holiday gift. I'm a 52-year-old man who should be long past the sports hero phase, but still considered Tiger a hero. I think that Tiger is what sports should be and is all about.

However, in watching the latest chapter of the Tiger legend I've come to realize what we all know: there are some things more important than sports. It's as plain and simple as that. When a man makes a commitment to a woman to marry and raise a family, there should be no confusion or gray areas in that commitment.

I've not earned a billion dollars in my career as a photographer and have no idea how I would handle the temptations and dark opportunities that might come with that, but I'd like to believe that I'd have the integrity and self-honesty that would enable me to realize that what I have waiting for me at home is infinitely more valuable that anything I might briefly encounter in any hotel room on the road.

I'm probably naive, and I obviously have no idea what goes on behind closed doors at the Tiger Woods home, but I also know that today's sports world is full of young athletes who have taken a good look inside themselves and realized that with the temptations dangling in front of them, they'd prefer to remain single for the time being and live out the fantasy of many young American males. I have to believe that that is a more honorable route to take than Tiger opted for.

Anyway, I'd love to be a Tiger fan again and thrill to his magnificence on the golf course, but for now I'll root for Phil.

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Immelman, Snedeker and Woods all rolled into one

As I watched this year's version of the Masters, especially the final round, which every year is one of my favorite days in sports, I once again found myself caught up in the drama of the event. I'm a Tiger Woods fan and found myself rooting for one of his patented breathtaking pressure shots to take the wind out of his opponents' sails and overwhelm them to win yet another event. At several points on Sunday it looked as if Tiger was poised to make his charge, but much like last year's US Open, it never quite happened, as he was never able to capitalize on his brilliant set-up shots.

I found myself rooting for young Brandt Snedeker and his youthful enthusiasm. Here was a guy who was just happy to be there and was making the most of his opportunities. Somewhere around mid-round on Saturday, though, it began to appear that maybe he didn't have the experience to stand up to the mounting pressure, and sure enough by late Sunday the inevitable mistakes were cropping up and it became obvious that he was not yet destined to wear the Green Jacket.

Though I was never really pulling for Trevor Immelman (In these types of situations, I usually root for the underdog) I had to respect his steady, unflappable game and the way he repeatedly backed up his minor mistakes with solid, steady recovery shots. He deserved to win the 2008 Masters and he did.

So, more importantly, how does this year's edition apply to my game of gold and what lessons can I take away from it?

Well, it occurred to me that in my most recent outing I was Tiger, Trevor and Brandt all rolled into one. I grabbed a set of Ping Eye2 irons and hit my local course, this past Wednesday with the usual high expectations. I bogied the short par 5 #1 and then hit my tee shot on the par 3 #2 just left of the green. A nice chip shot left me with a two foot putt for par. Suddenly I became the 2008 Masters version of Tiger. As I walked up to the short par putt , I had already recorded the par on my mental scorecard and was thinking about how I would play the next hole. Needless to say, I missed the putt, slipping it by on the ow side and settling for another bogey. Now I headed to the next tee with thoughts of recent failure and squandered opportunity in my head rather than thinking about a saved par. I not saying that this is what happened to Tiger on Sunday, but I know that when he hit the brilliant recovery shot from the trees in the pine straw on the par 5 #13 and followed it up with a brilliant approach to with a few feet, I had already recored a birdie on the hole for Tiger and was calculating how far back he now was when he missed the birdie putt!

I hit my stride at the start of the back nine in my round, with well placed drives, steady putting and already good play, including raeching a par 5 in two with a 210 yard approach and following that up with a 300 yard drive in the fairway on the next hole. I have to believe that this is how Trevor Immelman felt as he played on Sunday. When you slip into that zone, golf becomes a very easy game and you begin to wonder how anyone could ever mis-hit a shot or make a strategy error in a game as simple as this. My Trevor-like moment did not last long.

A glance at the scorecard and some quick math told me that I was on pace to easily break my course record. I had a lot of strokes to play with as I prepared for the final three holes. Just 2 bogies and a double bogey and I would record my personal best at my home course! Now it was time to be Brandt Snedeker. As I stumbled and bumbled to a pair of TRIPLE Bogies and a double bogey to close out what will now go down as just a very average score for me on the course, I can't help but look back and experience just a little of the feeling that Snedeker must have had as he watch his second shot in two days splash into the creek on Augusta's #13. Oh, what might have been!

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Tiger in the Rain

Tiger Woods at Bat Hill, 2003(Photo by Brian Cleary/www.bcpix.com)Tiger Woods at Bat Hill, 2003(Photo by Brian Cleary/www.bcpix.com)Tiger Woods at Bat Hill, 2003(Photo by Brian Cleary/www.bcpix.com)
photos ©Brian Cleary/www.bcpix.com

Watching Tiger Woods claim his 5th Bay Hill title and 5th consecutive tour win in Orlando this past weekend made me think back to another Bay Hill win. I was working my "day job" as a freelance photographer (www.bcpix.com) covering the Bay Hill tournament for the Associated Press back in 2003.

Rain plagued the tournament for all but one day, with some of the hardest, wettest showers rolling in on Sunday, as Tiger was stretching his lead and starting to pull away from Vijay Singh and the rest of the field.

That wasn't the unusual part, though. What made this tournament special was the fact that Tiger was sick throughout Sunday's final round, apparently having eaten a bad meal somewhere.

Since my assignment throughout the final day was to follow the leaders, which meant Tiger, I had the opportunity to study Woods up close. through my long telephoto lens. I watched the agony on Tiger's face as he struggled through the long, wet, cold day and wondered where he was disappearing to every few holes when I would occasionally be unable to find him among the group of golfers as they approached a tee. It turns out that Woods was actually wondering off into the trees to be physically sick every half hour or so.

I began to wonder if he would even be able to finish the day! At the end of the day, Tiger won the tournament by 11 strokes, going away, and I came away with an all new sense of amazement at this once-in-a-lifetime athlete.

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