Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Global 2012: Tiger Woods passes Jack Nicklaus for second in all-time wins

Tiger Woods, champion golfer, drives the ball ...Tiger Woods, champion golfer, drives the ball down range during the inaugural Earl Woods Memorial Pro-Am Tournament, part of the AT&T National PGA Tour event, July 4, 2007, at the Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Woods donated 30,000 tournament tickets to military personnel to attend the event honoring soldiers and military families. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Today's topic: Tiger Woods.

Believers and cynics, start your engines.

Tiger Woods, in fact, keeps turning his own ignition key, waiting for that major motor to rev.

He won Arnold Palmer's shindig at Bay Hill in March, his last tournament before the Masters … and then finished tie-40th at Augusta National.

He won Jack Nicklaus' event at Muirfield Village in early June, the last tournament before the U.S. Open … and then finished tie-21st at the Olympic Club.

And Sunday he won his own event at Congressional, a PGA Tour-leading third win of the year, his 74th career tour win, passing Nicklaus for second on the all-time list (he needs eight more to equal Sam Snead) and all any cynics can ask is: How's he going to do two weeks from Thursday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes at the British Open?

After all, to whom much is given – talent, hype, records, fame, riches, scrutiny – much is expected, as I was just saying to my good friend, LeBron James.

Tiger divides the room like Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes divide common property.

On the one hand, believers say, there is no arguing with the man's game. Still piecing together his reputation and his body after significant damage to both the past few years, Tiger has won three times in 11 starts. Or, four wins in 12 starts, if you count December's Chevron Challenge. Forget the craziness of that win percentage in golf – if he was a baseball player, his .333 would have earned him an all-star berth. Move over, Melky Cabrera.

On the other hand, doubters say only a major counts as a Tiger win of significance, and he hasn't won one since 2008. In fact, after his uninspiring Masters, he placed himself squarely in the hunt at the U.S. Open in San Francisco last month. Then, he faltered under pressure on the weekend, shooting 73-73. Hmmm.

On the one hand, believers say, he produced big moment after big moment in Sunday's win. Facing a potential disaster on the 16th hole, he made a good bogey. He made a knee-knocking six-footer on the 17th hole to take the lead. He smoked a 345-yard drive center-cut on 18 when his driver is often his least reliable club. His 9-iron approach to seal the win was so purely struck, his club twirl and immediate strut told you all you need to know about how Tiger Woods handles pressure golf.

On the other hand, doubters say, his only task was to hold off the hugely undecorated Bo Van Pelt. And Van Pelt obliged, essentially handing Tiger the victory by finishing bogey-bogey-bogey when tied for the lead. Or, as the sports humor web site, The Sports Pickle, tweeted shortly after the AT&T National wrapped up: "All the critics who said Tiger Woods couldn't stare down Bo Van Pelt in the final round of a non-major look foolish now." Oh!

The argument can go on: The believers brag that Tiger shot 67-69 in weekend heat so insanely stifling, the Tour shut down Congressional to fans Saturday. Yes, say the doubters, he's fit – but he only made one putt longer than 10 feet on Sunday, raising questions about the flat stick under pressure.

Believers can crow that Sunday was a glorious day for champions who wear red – their beloved Tiger, and the incomparable world champion Spanish national soccer team, which won Euro2012. Ah, yes, doubters say – but Spain hoists the important trophies (two Euros and a World Cup) while Tiger hasn't won a major since George W. Bush was president.

Nothing spices up a Sunday afternoon like the re-emergence of Tiger Woods. Like similar lightning-rod topics – LeBron, Justin Bieber and ObamaCare come to mind – you just can't stay neutral on the guy.

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