Tiger Woods: Who Would Bet Against Him?

The players at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines played from just about sunrise to just about sunset on Sunday in an effort to get as many of the remaining 36 holes in as they could. A fog-saturated Saturday that cooped them up all day long set the table for it.

Tiger Woods had a 2-shot lead over Billy Horschel after 36, a 4-shot lead over Canadian rookie Brad Fritsch after 54, and with just eleven holes to play to get all 72 holes in, a 6-shot lead over Brandt Snedeker and Nick Watney. And those two guys are really good players and playing well, but who actually thinks they have a chance to win? 

Well, Snedeker did leave himself a 10-foot birdie putt on 14 that would get him to 5-back with four to play. The greens were getting pretty bumpy by the time the officials blew the horn and he knew that he would get freshly cut greens in the morning so he marked his ball overnight; pretty shrewd.

I’ve got to make some more birdies.  I’ve got a long way to go.  I’ve got a guy at the top of the leaderboard that doesn’t like giving up leads, so I have to go catch him.

I did a great job today of staying patient and playing good golf.  Just need to go out there tomorrow morning and finish with three or four birdies.

And Snedeker is nothing if not a birdie machine. Watney, on the other hand, is in much better position. He has ten holes to play in the group right in front of Tiger and he’s 3-under for the eight holes that he did play.

All I can do is I’m going to try to make as many birdies as I can.  I’ve got 11 and 12 that are tough, and hopefully, maybe he can help me out a little bit, I don’t know.  But I can’t just hand it to him, as a competitor.  So we’ll come out and see how close we can get.

And what both of them may be thinking is that a lot of Tiger’s third round precision seemed to evaporate in the fourth. He didn’t hit a fairway until the fifth hole and then again on the seventh and the ones he missed, he missed badly. But he still shot 3-under.

Yeah, I drove it great in the morning.  Just drove it on a string all day — at least all morning.  Then we had a little bit of a wait before we teed off again, and I hit a couple left on 1 and 2, and hit the one right at 4.  But that wasn’t left of the cliff [on the left].  You can hit 400 yards to the right and still have a shot, so I was fine.

I was able to play those holes at 2‑under par, and from then, I hit three great drives right in a row.

Actually, the miss on 4 involved a little bit more of an elaborate recovery than his optimistic description of the latitude he would have over there. He had to hit a sweeping cut shot from behind a tree:

Yeah, I didn’t have a very good lie.  I was into the grain.  I was thinking if it cut, great, then I’m short of the green.  If it didn’t, I’d be in the bunker with the easy shot up the green, and it came out cutting.

I was surprised I was able to get that much club on the golf ball with that much grain coming into me, and ended up in a spot where I had a pretty makeable chip, and it was just straight up the gut.  Maybe just a fraction to the left. [And he made it.]

With that kind of lead and that kind of talent, he was asked how he would avoid being lackadaisical with such a big lead. As fiercely competitive as he is, his comeback could well have been like the sappy movie line from the indignant lover to the clueless mate, “You don’t know me. You just don’t know me.” But that isn’t what he said:

I’ve got to continue with executing my game plan.  That’s the idea.  I’ve got 11 holes to play, and I’ve got to go out there and play them well.

Would he take a different approach with this kind of lead or would he simply fall back on memories of other big leads that he defended?

No, I just go out there and play.  I had the lead, and the whole idea was to build on my lead, and I’ve done that so far.  I’ve got to do it again tomorrow.

This is a seemingly innocuous question that actually got to the core of who Tiger Woods is. He is so far along his path to greatness — my words — that he doesn’t seem to require the sort of emotional crutches memories provide that mere mortals rely on. “No, I just go out there and play,” he says.

They asked him that if he won, would he then consider playing Riviera in order to try to wrest the No. 1 spot away from Rory McIlroy who is taking four weeks off?

Let’s just focus on tomorrow first (laughing).

And you can bet that he surely is. There appears to be nothing in his consciousness unrelated to what he needs to do Monday morning. And he believes that he has quite an arsenal at his disposal:

I think it’s probably the whole package.  I’ve driven the ball well, I’ve hit my irons well, and I’ve chipped and putted well.  Well, I’ve hit good putts.  They all haven’t gone in. Today was certainly — you’re just trying to get your speed right, because it was wobbling all over the place.

And there was one other arrow in his quiver. For the first time I’ve heard, he described how he and his new caddie, Joe LaCava, Fred Couples’ former caddie, have gelled as a team:

We’re definitely gelled.  We go out there and have a good time.  He knows how far I’m hitting it, what shapes I like to hit under certain circumstances, and he’ll kind of sway me into certain shots here and there.  But it’s nice to get his opinion at times when I’m stuck in between clubs or stuck in between reads on the green.

Who would bet against him?

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