2007 Masters: Opportunity not seized for Woods

Augusta, Ga. | The 2007 Masters was the tournament in which Tiger Woods proved conclusively he is human.

He hit enough bad shots in 72 holes to astound many golf fans, yet he never lost his cool or his dignity. Furthermore, he never fell from contention.

Always a man of grace, a disappointed Woods walked out of the 18th-hole scoring hut and into a throng of journalists. Though clearly frustrated by another Masters loss, he nevertheless attempted to crack a joke.

“I told a couple of players that I was glad I had metal spikes,” Woods said. “Otherwise I might have slid off some of those greens.”

He even managed to smile about the 4-iron he broke on the 11th hole. While hitting his second shot, he wrapped the club around a tree.

“When I got to 13, it (the 4-iron) was the perfect club for my second shot,” Woods said. “So I had to hit a very hard 5-iron, which is a scary shot when you try to hit a big swinging hook over the creek.”

Woods, of course, hit the 5-iron to 3 feet on the par-5 hole and sank the eagle putt.

But Woods spent just a little too much time in, well, the woods. With a few wayward drives, a few iron shots flared to the right, and a few misguided putts, his 291 total tied for second.

The truth: It was a mediocre performance for Woods, and he still contended to the end. He has so much talent that he can win with less than his best.

Depending on the point of view, Woods brought his A game to Augusta National (amiss) . . .

Or he brought his B game (blemished) . . .

Or his C game (cracked) . . .

Or his D game (disorderly) . . .

Or his F game (failure).

Look at it this way: Although Woods was unable to move closer to the major championship victory total of Jack Nicklaus, he did notch another second-place finish in a major.

Many people think Woods, with 12 major victories, will catch and pass Nicklaus, who has 18. On the other hand, Nicklaus remains far ahead in runner-up finishes in majors – he totaled 19, while Woods has only three.

If a great player has to learn to lose as well as win, Woods took another step toward greatness in this Masters.

He certainly conducts himself graciously when he loses. He was such a gentleman that he removed his hat and stuck out his hand to Stuart Appleby even before they reached the final green. Woods shook hands with the Australian, as if to say, “See, mate, I can lose, too.”

Appleby was asked if he thought Woods would falter.

“No, I’ve seen too many highlight reels where he’s done things out of nowhere,” Appleby said. “But he was running out of time. Tiger fought it out, and, I guarantee you, he’s probably the guy who played the worst out of everybody. He always has that extra gear up his sleeve. He doesn’t have to play his best. Basically, most of us have to play premium golf, and he can skank it around for a win or a second or a top five. That’s an advantage none of us have. I wish I had that.”

Nicklaus had it, too.

The Nicklaus-Woods race has another interesting perspective: The Masters, because of its smaller field, has been the easiest to win of the four majors for both golfers. There is even a quotient at work here – one-third of the major triumphs for Nicklaus and Woods have come in the Masters. Nicklaus won six Masters and 18 majors. Woods has four Masters titles and 12 majors.

For both, it is a 1-to-3 ratio.

Thus it might be surmised for every two additional majors, Woods will pick up a green jacket. This one had his name written all over it, and mysteriously he came up short.

So what went wrong?

Nobody knows for sure, but he looked downbeat as much as he looked upbeat.

He looked tentative. And he looked, at times, like he was unsure of his swing.

Too much swing, not enough spirit. He appeared to be consumed with what his swing was doing. Perhaps he needed to pay more attention to his mind.

The Tiger Woods we know and love is the golfer who understands how to throw himself into overdrive. He supercharges his stride, he pumps his fist, he becomes a personification of the word positive.

“Tiger, when he does those great things, he’s always in the right state of mind,” Appleby said. “He’s not in the state of mind ‘I need to’ – he’s in the state of mind ‘I can’ and this is how I’m going to do it.”

In this Masters, though, he looked negative. He took the lead early in the final round, then lost it. For the first time he surrendered a lead in a major championship and couldn’t get it back.

One issue persists in my mind: Now that his father is gone, who will assume the role of chief counselor and motivator for the world’s No. 1 player? Who will fill the void?

I’m betting it won’t be his faithful instructor, Hank Haney. It could be his mother, Tida, although she seems to be more of a spiritual influence than an adviser for golf combat.

Tiger and his wife, Elin, will have their first child this year. Will this make him even more mellow and content?

Nicklaus and his wife, Barbara, had five children. Regardless, Nicklaus won more majors in his 30s than his 20s. There is no reason to assume that Woods, 31, can’t do the same.

Still, his failure in the 2007 Masters let everyone know he is human after all.

“He’s human, he just doesn’t act like one,” Appleby said. “I haven’t seen if he changes in a phone booth yet.”

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