Tiger Woods displays an uncanny strategic plan to demolish the Royal Liverpool course, win the Open and amass his 11th major. Phil Mickelson battles through 71 holes at the U.S. Open, needs a par to win or bogey to tie, and self destructs with a double bogey to let his fourth major slip through his fingertips.
What just happened? And why?
Although we can all be a Monday morning quarterback and speculate on what happened to Phil -- yet not to Tiger -- I believe I have a viable answer, albeit a relatively simple one: Tiger and Phil are wired differently. They are both immensely talented, powerful, hard workers, tough, not frightened to succeed, willing to change and both have multiple wins under their belts. They are both highly competitive, hate to lose and thrive on winning, as most premiere athletes do. They are both champions, two of the top three in the world, but, they have been wired, by some superior being apparently, quite differently.
Phil is a risk taker. Tiger is calculated. Phil is extroverted. Tiger is introverted. Phil tears apart a golf course, Tiger picks it apart. If both were boxers, Phil would fight like Tyson, Tiger like Ali. Twenty years ago, the then champion golfer, Spaniard Seve Ballesteros, played like Phil does, Jack Nicklaus like Tiger. Getting the picture? They are wired in very similar fashion.
Phil stood on Winged Foot's 72nd tee leading the U.S. Open and he got there by hammering his driver, mostly into the rough. Not the best way to manage the lead but, somehow, he made it happen. That day he had only hit two fairways, but his genius short game got him to this point, belying the fact that he should have realized that the cover of his driver was meant to stay on.
I believe Phil to be an ultra confident player. He believes he can pull off the miracle shot. His confidence is unbounded but it also clouds his thinking and is too often false, leading him overconfidently astray. Why change that philosophy or, alternately, why continue to go against the grain, that which common sense and, no political pun intended, that which conservatism dictates in a particular instance? Why alter the wiring? After the wild push slice drive, 80 yards off line, clearly a bad shot at the wrong time, he followed that up with a dumb shot (in the opinion of many, both fans and expert analysts and players).
Even Phil said of himself, "What an idiot!" However, trying to pull off the miracle shot, the Hail Mary last minute hurl, attempting to curve a 3-iron 210 yards off of a bad lie around trees to a postage stamp target, is not that unbelievable. That is how Phil plays. Here is an interesting media clip from GolfWeek on April 1, when Phil was playing the Players Championship. It is a discussion between two TV golf analysts that went something like this:
"Do you think taking the driver on 16 was a little too aggressive?"
"What about the 3 iron, trying to slice the ball around trees and clear the water?"
"That double bogey really hurt."
So, a few weeks earlier Phil had pulled the exact same stunt. That wasn't the first, and I doubt it will be the last. Phil will win more championships, and he will win them his way, in his style, because that is how he is wired.
Tiger calculated, in his second practice round at Hoylake (that is the local's name for the Royal Liverpool, located in Beatles land), that his driver would go too far and out of control on the parched bone hard fairways. He put his 2-iron in the bag, and relegated his driver to only one appearance all week.
Why? So he could control his ball, approach the greens with longer irons, hit the ball in the middle of the green and try to two-putt every hole. That included the "par 5s" which are never true 5s for Tiger. He can reach every par 5 on the planet in two and two-putt for birdies. Throw in a couple of eagles and the strategic plan comes to fruition.
Woods thought it through, developed a plan, stuck to it and converted 11-for-11. That means he led 11 major championships after 54 holes and won 'em all. That is calculated, strategic, quietly workman-like, militarily executed (I wonder where he learned that?). That comment is obviously made with tongue planted firmly in cheek as his dear father, Earl who recently passed away, was a military man in special forces.
Tiger won the way he is wired. Tiger will win more major championships. He has Jack Nicklaus' major championships record in sight. I believe he is planning his strategy over the next few years starting now, to quietly calculate how to amass at least 19 professional majors. As long as no one dabbles with the wiring, I believe he just may do it -- to paraphrase Paul Anka and Frank Sinatra, his way.
Hats off to both champions as, regardless of their respective approaches, they both bring so much to the game