Monday, June 21, 2010

There’s nothing like an Open at Pebble Beach; Is Tiger back?

Fifteen years ago, after playing his first practice round prior to the 1995 U.S. Open, Lee Janzen sat in the locker room at Shinnecock and said this: “They ought to forget all the other golf courses and just rotate this event between here and Pebble Beach. Those other places are nice, but they just can’t compare to these two.”

Janzen had already won one U.S. Open-at Baltusrol—at that point and would go on to win a second one three years later at The Olympic Club. He knows most of the Open courses that have been in the rota in the last 20 years. His point is well-taken: There’s just nothing like Pebble Beach and Shinnecock isn’t far behind. Personally, I would throw Pinehurst in every so often and perhaps Bethpage Black—but the latter no doubt reflects personal bias.

Of course that isn’t going to happen. The USGA is committed to moving the national championship around the country and to trying to find new venues. That’s why it is going to Chambers Bay outside Seattle in 2015 and last week announced it will be going to another new course, Erin Hills (in Wisconsin) in 2017. Right now, negotiations are continuing to try to go back to Shinnecock in 2018—the membership is apparently hard-balling negotiations—wanting a different (read, far more lucrative) deal than the USGA gives other places because, well, it’s Shinnecock. Stay tuned on that one.

If the USGA makes a deal with Shinnecock, that would mean Janzen would get his wish for two years (problem being he’s unlikely to still be playing Opens at that stage since he’ll be 54) since that would mean Shinnecock in 2018 and Pebble Beach in 2019.

I say all this as a way to getting to the headline from this past week: there’s nothing like an Open at Pebble Beach. The USGA should, at the very least, go there every five years the way The R+A goes to St. Andrews every five years. Even if it means I have to get on an airplane.

There were, as always, some complaints about the golf course—notably the greens, especially after Tiger Woods got finished whining on Thursday. Complaints from the players are as much a part of The Open as narrow fairways and fast greens. There will also be some who will say, ‘who the hell is Graeme McDowell and what is he doing in the same sentence as Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Tom Kite and Tiger Woods?’—the four previous winners of Opens at Pebble Beach.

Look, the stars don’t always win. Woods, Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els all had golden chances to win on Sunday and didn’t get it done. McDowell did. So too did Gregory Havret, the Frenchman who finished second. To show you how much I know I looked at the leaderboard on Saturday night and saw six names: Dustin Johnson, McDowell, Woods, Havret, Mickelson and Els and thought this: one of four guys is going to win this thing: Johnson, Woods, Mickelson or Els. So, McDowell and Havret beat all four of them. Shows you how much I know.

Of course I suspect I wasn’t alone and that’s comforting. Ironically, I walked with McDowell and got to see him up close on Thursday but it had nothing to do with any special golf acumen or ability to see the future. He was paired with Shaun Micheel and Rocco Mediate and I wanted to watch THEM play so, by accident, I ended up seeing McDowell. I’ll say this: I was impressed. He struggled at the start but stayed calm and pieced together an even par round that went un-noticed because everyone was screaming for Rocco and because Micheel ended up as one of the leaders that day after shooting 69. McDowell, who I’d never met, was also very friendly—even early on when he wasn’t playing well. I liked him.

His life is completely different now because he’s a major champion. As the first European winner in 40 years, he’s going to be a very wealthy man. Havret’s life will also be different because he’s an Open runner-up, but as I can tell you from my experience dealing with major winners and runners-up in, ‘Moment of Glory,’ the gulf between first and second is wider than The Atlantic Ocean.

Naturally, much of the talk today is going to be about Tiger Woods. The question that will be asked is this: Is he back? In my opinion—yes, he is. He was very much the old Tiger this week, on and off the golf course. He hit the ball far better than he has hit it all year and on the back nine Saturday it was all there again: putts going in from all over, the remarkable second shot on 18, the fist-pumps, the crowds roaring for him (which hadn’t happened at all before then) and that game-face of his, firmly in place as the thought crossed his mind that he could win another major.

It was electric stuff. The fact that he didn’t close the deal on Sunday changes nothing. He’s never come from behind to win a major on Sunday before so it wasn’t stunning that he didn’t do it on this Sunday. It is also difficult for ANYONE to back up a great round with another one the next day. Think about the three 66’s shot this week: Mickelson shot 66 on Friday; 73 on Saturday; Woods went from 66 to 75 and Johnson went from 66 to (gasp) 82.

He was also back to being totally-Tiger in his behavior. On the course there were the looks to the sky, the eye-rolling, the occasional slammed club when things didn’t go exactly as they were supposed to go. Off the course, more of the same. On Tuesday someone asked him a very carefully couched question about the fact that ANYONE dealing with personal troubles can find his job more difficult and he snapped, “it’s none of your business.” So much for getting back to Buddism. On Thursday he acted as if he had just discovered that the greens at Pebble Beach were poa annua and might get bouncy in the afternoon.

He said no one had been able to putt on them in the afternoon even though the three guys leading the golf tournament had played in the afternoon. Don’t bother Tiger with the facts. What’s more, the greens in 2010 were MUCH better than the greens were in 2000 when Tiger made every putt you could possibly make on them en route to his astonishing 15-shot victory. What wasn’t better was TIGER, not the greens. Or, to quote Nick Faldo, who was once asked if his problem was his putter: “No, the problem wasn’t the putter, it was the puttee.”

It wasn’t the greens either. Sure they bounced—this just in, poa bounces. On Saturday, after USGA executive director David Fay had pointed out that both Woods and Mickelson had used the word, ‘awful,’ in talking about their putting Thursday: one said the greens were awful; the other (Mickelson) said HE was awful, Woods was given a chance to say, ‘hey, I was frustrated, I didn’t make a birdie all day.’ Instead, looking away from the questioner as he always does to show his disdain, he said, “A lot of guys thought the greens were awful. I was just the only one who said it.”

Actually, a lot of guys thought Tiger was acting like a big baby.

Then on Sunday, Tiger threw Steve Williams under the bus, blaming him for several bad decisions. Look, no one likes seeing Stevie with tire tracks on his face more than me, but Tiger lost because Tiger lost. Period. Still, my guess is he will have a great chance at St. Andrews where he can keep the driver in the bag almost the entire week.

His whining brings me back to Tom Watson, whose emotional final Open at Pebble is something I will remember for a long, long time—especially the tears he shed without hesitation on the 18th green on Sunday. I know he was thinking about how cool it was to have his son Michael walking next to him at that moment; of all the memories he has of the golf course; of the ’82 Open and of Bruce Edwards.

Through my own tears I thought about Bruce telling me one reason he loved working for Watson was because he never blamed anyone but himself when things went wrong. Which is one more thing—among many—that Eldrick T. Woods might be able to learn from Thomas Sturges Watson.


John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show ( to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:

John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases


steve m said...

A leopard never changes its spots, nor does a Tiger.

Anonymous said...

Tom Watson good Tiger Bad. Wow, thanks for a fresh perspective. Who is 'a lot of guys'. I suspect its the Golf Channel and most of the media who don't like Tiger.

How about Ernie Els not taking Media interviews.. any mention of that.. uh no..Dustin the same.

No Tiger Woods bias from Feinstein..ya right!. Well done to the Winner...Ernie Els should won it.

Mr. X said...

"He was also back to being totally-Tiger in his behavior."

He was eating at Perkins?

Anonymous said...

See John, that's just the issue I have with you...your disdain for Tiger NEVER lets you be objective for once in your life. Tiger wasn't whining...he simply stated the obvious...the green was awful. He was just the only one with enough courage to say it. I saw you on the Golf channel on Saturday where you spewed out this same drivel and one of your colleagues (not Hawkins, but the other guy that was on the panel with you) said he wasn't going to criticize players for saying how they REALLY feel about things...especially considering in all honesty that the greens compared to others was awful. He also said Phil wasn't one known for saying what's really on his mind. You really didn't have a comeback for that except to say you agreed that Tiger thinks he owns the world. Phil even alluded to the same thing yesterday in his press conference when he said he knew why the scores were terrible across the board but wasn't going to get into it. So, it wasn't whining by Tiger...he was simply stating the obvious...and just because he shot a 66 the very next day doesn't mean the greens wasn't awful...he just had a great day.

Anonymous said...

thank you for pointing out feinstein's antipathy towards Tiger. It becomes a little tiresome to read the same carping endlessly. Feinstein is wonderfully insightful but should understand that not all believe that Tiger is deficient as a human being. If you look hard you will be find similar weakness in virtually every professional golfer.

ARCstats said...

Most of Tiger's majors have been won by him shooting par and everyone else near him choking their guts out. But the man now has off-the-course problems (and anyone who has ever gone through a divorce can attest to what it does to your world), so he's just another slug out there right now. Thus yesterday's results. Par yesterday would have won him #15. Yet he was never in the game.

Maybe someday people will realize that Tiger's greatest attribute is his timing - meaning him playing against inferior competition during his career in comparison to Jack. That's not a knock on Tiger, just a fact. There's a reason Jack has 19 seconds to go along with his 18 major wins.

Yesterday's results simply defined professional golf in the Tiger era. McDowell, in second place going into the final round, shoots 3 over and walks away with the hardware.

Hustle said...

"...Most of Tiger's majors have been won by him shooting par and everyone else near him choking their guts out". So tell me ARCstats, was that the case in the 2000 US Open? Did Tiger "shoot par"?. Just curious.

pulmcrit1 said...

Question for John: Do you think Dustin Johnson will recover from his dismal Sunday round? Would be interested in your opinion.

John said...

FOTB staff...why was my comment yesterday censored? I stated similar views regarding Tom Watson and JF disdain for tiger yet wasn't published. Did I say something inappropriate?

Brian said...

John, I completely agree with you about Tiger whining about the awful greens, not the awful putting, and blaming Steve Williams for his Sunday problems. When asked by NBC what positives he took from Sunday, Tiger snapped, "Nothing."

When things are going poorly for Tiger, he shows very little class or grace. Not exactly what Earl said he would become.