The Dean's List: Tuesday, June 16
MY GO-TO GUY NOT TOO OPTIMISTIC ABOUT TIGER
We all have our go-to guys when we really want to know certain things. Troy Aikman for analyzing NFL quarterbacks. Brian Windorst for LeBron and the Cavs. My wife on how to drive. And dress. And…
Being a Tiger Woods devotee—on the course but certainly not off it—I'll listen to the plethora of alleged geniuses of what's wrong with the former golfing phenom. While I respect gut-level opinions of the Johnny Millers of the world, my go-to guy for Tiger Talk is his trusted pal since they met as 12-year old junior golfers, Notah Begay.
Begay and Woods won a national championship together at Stanford. Begay played a big role in Tiger's switch to his newest swing coach, Chris Como. Begay knows Tiger's game as well if not better than anyone. He was with him yesterday at Chambers Bay and watched him play Tuesday's nine-hole practice round. For my money, I put more stock in what Begay says about Woods—realizing that some of it will be naturally biased and with an agenda—than the rest of humankind put together.
Begay is a TV analyst with NBC and The Golf Channel. Smart hire, huh? Following walking Chambers Bay with Tiger today, Begay shared some of his insight when quizzed by multiple reporters working The Golf Channel. For Tiger fans hoping Woods could somehow pull his game together and make a run at the U.S. Open beginning Thursday in the Pacific Northwest, hearing Tiger's pal—or reading here in black and white what Notah had to say—will tell you all you need to know. Tiger has no chance this week. And he knows it.
I noted every word Begay said on The Golf Channel in response to a few pertinent questions about Tiger that were asked of him immediately after being with Woods:
Q: What would a successful US Open be for Tiger Woods?
Begay: I am really looking for that one round where he pieces it all together. Usually when someone contends in a major they'll play three out of four good rounds. They'll admit, ‘Hey I'm gonna struggle in one round and it's how you do in that poor round.' And right now Tiger's poor golf is really poor and his good golf is not that great. I'd like to see one good round where he hits maybe eight or nine fairways and 12 or 13 greens that gives him that shot of confidence; that, ‘Hey, I'm staying the course and getting a little bit of positive feedback from the work I'm putting in.'”
WOW! That's where Tiger Woods is with his golf game seven years since his last win at a major—the 2008 US Open.
Q: Would he ever contact Butch Harmon and go back to him?
Begay: No, that ship has sailed.
Q: What did you see today? Is he a good fit with Chambers Bay?
Begay: (long pause, which tells the story) I think it's a better fit than what we classify as a traditional US Open setup. There's a little bit more forgiveness off the tees. The drives I did see him hit were online. He didn't hit any really wayward tee-shots like he did yesterday. His iron play was solid.
Begay says Tiger told him he'll use putter from long distances at Chambers Bay when most others will use wedges or bump-and-run chips on this fescue-tee-to-green surface with startling undulations throughout the links overlooking Puget Sound.
Begay earlier touched on a troublesome topic, putting it this way: “I think a challenge here is motivation. Seventy-nine times he's won, 14 majors, he beat everybody, everywhere around the world, and it's tough to find the motivation to just get up and go out and do it again.” Ouch.
Health will be the other determining factor for Tiger. Begay said, “He has to stay healthy. He can't afford any more surgeries or physical setbacks that keep him out for more than three months because there's just — every setback like sets you back in dog years.”
BOMBERS BELIEVE GOING DEEP A PREREQUISITE
Another reason Eldrick can only hope to be a 72-hole afterthought. Long-hitting flat-belly Rory McIlroy says there's no doubt the bombers off the tee have a major advantage this week. Woods will have to play a lot of 3-woods to keep it in play at Chambers Bay, which will cost him up to fifty yards to long-knocks like Rory and Dustin Johnson. For what it's worth (FWIW on Twitter!), Rory sounded very good today and not like a guy who's coming off two consecutive missed cuts on the Euro Tour. Maybe because of this mathematical equation: Long + Links + Defending Open Championship winner + World No. 1 = 5 to 1 favorite this week. P.S. Rory: “With all the elevated tee shots around here you need to hit the ball up in the air with a lot of spin which fortunately I'm able to do.”
Unfortunately, even though I will continue my almost-twenty year streak of watching every swing Tiger makes in every tournament that's made available, my expectations are to make the cut, but not be in the hunt for this week's championship. This quote from famed golf coach David Leadbetter (one of the few teachers who has not worked with Woods) articulates my feelings exactly: If Tiger Woods ends his long wait for another major title at this week's U.S. Open, “it'll be the greatest achievement of his glittering career.”
I'M GOING WITH ANYONE NAMED JORDAN THIS TIME OF YEAR!
I like the two favorites—Rory and Spieth, whom I picked on Sunday's Blitz—and Dustin Johnson. Of the longshots, I'd give Sergio a chance to make his long-awaited breakthrough in the majors. As for Tiger, I'll say his overall experience will give him an advantage over most, but not enough for him to finish any better than, let's say 44th. And truth serum in my go-to guy Notah Begay would probably have him agreeing with me!