Ten reasons there's one Tiger

Posted: April 04, 2007

SO, WHAT MAKES Tiger as unreal as he is? With apologies to "Late Night," here's our Top 10 reasons, one for each year he's been playing. In no particular order, here goes:

* APPROACH: We're not talking about who hits the best irons into the tightest pin placements, although that certainly is part of it, too. No, we're talking about outlook. As in, where do I want to be when I call it a career and how do I get there? He's been preparing for this journey almost from the moment he could crawl. There was a plan. His father saw it. So did he. And he never deviated from it, even in the rare down times. You must be mighty singular in your convictions to change your swing not once but twice - first after you've won your first major as a pro by a dozen shots, the other time after you've won seven of 11 majors - and know that in time you'd come back much better equipped for the long haul. All this didn't just happen. He merely makes it look that way.

* INNER FIRE: It's as if he detests losing more than he craves hoisting trophies. It's a fine line, but there's a difference. He knows he can't win every time he tees it up, but that doesn't mean he has to accept it. He's the ultimate competitor.

* NO MERCY RULE: He not only wants to beat you, he wants to bury you. That's his mentality. It's why he wins a lot of his majors by a bundle. It's why nobody closes better than him. He has led or been tied for the lead through 54 holes in 12 majors. He has won every time. Even when he's ahead after 36, you pretty much know it's over. And for the most part, so do his opponents. Just ask them. Remember that the next time Phil Mickelson hits one into another area code on the 72nd hole. Harsh? Yes, but it's the truth.

* SEIZE THE MOMENT: Has anyone ever pulled off more memorable stuff, when it truly mattered? Strokes that will remain indelible, starting with the wedge he hit into the island green at the TPC en route to winning the 1994 U.S. Amateur. Whenever he absolutely has to, he usually does: The chip-in on the 16th at the 2005 Masters and the par putt to force a playoff at the 2000 PGA. And so on. There will be more. Count on it. He knows no other way.

* PRESENCE: He might not admit it, but he already knows his place in the fabric of this goofy game. A man of color winning at Augusta National, in his first major as a pro, by 12? You think he doesn't understand the big picture? Jack Nicklaus, the fellow whose records he's eye-balling, has retired from majors five times (he did so twice at the British Open, in case somebody missed the first exit). Tiger won all of them, which of course is legendary and a tad impossible. It's why he's got a doctorate in posterity.

* MANAGEMENT: On the course, and in his life. You might not like the fact that he doesn't let anyone into his world, but appreciate the fact that it's his call. He has always surrounded himself with people he trusts, folks who are going to make him comfortable and not detract from what he's trying to accomplish.

* INTANGIBLES: Like the commercial says, you might not know exactly what "it" is, but you sure can recognize it when it's right there in front of you. He obviously has a whole bunch of the tangibles going for him, too. Yet to be him, there has to be something more. You can feel it, even if you don't know precisely where, when or how it'll become a factor. Many times, the deciding factor.

* THE INTIMIDATOR: I know that was Dale Earnhardt's calling card. Yet it applies here as well, maybe more so. It's the way he carries himself, the way he plays, the manner in which he goes about his biz. He gets it done. It's almost inexorable. He knows it. So does everyone who's been paying attention.

* BELIEF: In himself and his talent. It sounds basic enough, but don't underestimate its value. In the end, he's supremely confident that whatever he's doing is what's right for him. And he's not afraid to fail, which might be why he doesn't. People laughed when he began chipping with his 3-wood until he kept rolling it close. Then it became fashionable. Funny how that works. He's got imagination in his bag, such as a 15th club. He pulls off shots most never contemplate attempting. Part of that is skill. But don't diminish the role his stomach and mind have in the equation.

* GAME: Go ahead and pick a weakness. Good luck. Sure, there are some things he might not do quite as pure as others, but that constitutes nit-picking. He's not the only guy out there who can hit all the shots. Trust me. He just hits more of them. There are weeks where he can't find a fairway, or a green, yet still finds a way to be there on the back nine on Sunday. His length is supposedly one of his greatest advantages, but he went to the British Open last summer, surveyed the course and determined that he absolutely couldn't be successful if he put his ball in the fairway bunkers. So he put his driver away, and spotted everyone else big-time yardage off the tee, which meant he was hitting 4-irons into greens when the rest of the field was using 7s. So what? He stuck with the game plan, and hit it inside of his playing partners anyway. When he didn't, he'd outputt them. Once, he even holed out from 200-some yards away for an eagle. He isn't dead solid perfect, but there's never been a more honed mix of brute force, finesse, determination and intellect. *

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