February 19, 2003

Inferior Clubs, Superior Play

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There are two things sports have taught me: First, if you are good enough and arrogant enough, you’ll get a nice pay check at the end of the week, regardless of the output you produce. And second, a true champion can always overcome, no matter the obstacle.

Despite the many naysayers and doubters, Tiger Woods won the Buick Invitational last weekend in triumphant fashion, capturing his 35th PGA Tour title. He finished four-under-par-68 on Sunday to finish 16-under 272 for a four-shot victory. This was his first tournament back after having surgery on his left knee Dec. 12.

Going into the tournament, no one would have bet on Tiger. Despite his success and ability to pull out clutch shots in the most precarious positions, no one expected Tiger to win, not even Tiger.

Prior to the tournament he said that his knee was not 100 percent, but was strong enough to play. He explained, “I’m expecting to go out there and give it my best and see what happens.”

Not a golf aficionado, I’m not sure if I would have put my money on the Nike wearing, Buick driving 27-year-old either. I mean, he hadn’t played in two months, he was recovering from surgery, and he himself said his knee was not 100 percent. It sounded like he was playing against a stacked deck if you ask me.

But then again he had won 34 PGA Tour titles, this one made 35. This tournament was his 11th tour victory by at least four shots and this win improved his record to 27-2 when he has at least a share of the 54-hole lead.

Still, he shouldn’t have been able to play that well, it’s not human, honestly, especially with his, and I quote, “inferior equipment.”

In an interview with Golf Magazine, fellow pro Phil Mickelson said of Tiger and his Nike supplies: “He hates that I can fly it by him now. He has a faster swing speed than I do, but he has inferior equipment. Tiger is the only player good enough to overcome the equipment he’s stuck with.”

Right, Phil, I bet Tiger is very upset that you can fly the ball by him; how many more tournaments has he won than you?

Twelve, to be exact. Since joining the PGA Tour in 1996, Tiger has 35 Tour victories to Mickelson’s 13. He has eight major championships to Mickelson’s zero. And in the last 15 tournaments that both have entered, Tiger has finished ahead of Mickelson 13 times.

At what point while he was collecting his pay checks do you think Tiger, stopped and thought; “Wow, if I went back to Titleist I just might hit the ball a little farther. Since I am already dominating the tour, and have had a lot of success each time I switched to a new Nike product, I must be doing something wrong.” I don’t think so Phil.

Even Mickelson admits he hasn’t come up with the magic formula to beat Woods, even if he does play with better equipment. In fact he said, “My success rate against him has not been that good, but I enjoy the challenge. I wouldn’t say it’s demoralizing. Although my record is not very good against him, nobody’s is.”

After Mickelson’s “inferior equipment” comments became public, he apologized and explained, “It was meant nothing more than a positive comment on Tiger’s incredible talent.”

Although both men claimed it wasn’t an issue, golfer Brad Faxon who played with the pair on Sunday said, “Tiger was gracious about it, but I think he uses it as fuel — as if he needs any more.”

Sunday ended up being a promoter’s dream as Tiger and Mickelson were playing together to finish up the tournament. It was the first time they had played in the final group together since the 2001 Masters, which Tiger won for his fourth straight major.

As Tiger continued to dazzle, Mickelson continued to fall and ended up tying for fourth. So much for the superior equipment.

I’m not sure if Mickelson was just on a rampage, if he was speaking without thinking, or if he was just jealous that he didn’t have his own set of Nike clubs; but whichever, he picked the wrong person to insult and it showed.

But like I said, I’m not a golf aficionado, so if I were a betting woman and needed to predict a winner for the Buick last week, I might have thrown my money elsewhere. But I guess that just goes to show, champions can truly overcome everything, including the critics.

Archived article by Kristen Haunss