Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer of all time. Although he hasn't won as many times as the great Jack Nicklaus, and he hasn't won 11 tournaments in a row like the great Bryon Nelson, he'll easily surpass the former, and has more than a passing shot at passing the latter. He very likely will go down, when it's all said and done, as the greatest professional athlete of all time, in any sport. We knew he'd be good, but to say he surpassed expectations is like saying Antarctica is kinda cool.
column earlier this week from a respected sports writer in Orlando, Mike Bianchi, which agreed that Tiger was a great golfer, but also tried to make the point that he wasn't THAT great. That the vast majority of the time Tiger was a loser. That a local TV sports anchor who bet him that Tiger would win the Arnold Palmer Invitational was a fool....as most "TV folks" are, I believe is the way he put it. They bet a dinner on the outcome, with Bianchi taking the field, and the foolish TV sportscaster taking Tiger. Oooops....I'll guess Bianchi's dinner will be crow.
Bianchi went to great lengths to point out that Tiger had not won the majority of his tournaments against the 125 or so other golfers or so he faces each week. Over the course of his career, he's ONLY won almost 30 PERCENT OF THEM. He made some good points, especially about Byron Nelson's streak. He also left out some facts, including the fact that during a lot of his career, Tiger has been refining and retooling his swing to where it is now. Right now, I'd say it's pretty good! It also doesn't include the fact that with every tournament, Tigers gains even more valuable experience. It also doesn't include that fact that the prime age for golfers are the thirties.....which Tiger is just entering. Now reporters are natural skeptics, and that's a good thing, but on this one.....well Bianchi, and there are others like him, simply refuse to buy into the fact that Tiger is as good as he is. He is. Add to that the fact that each and every time he "does what he does so well," his confidence grows. Experience leads to confidence which leads to calm expectation which leads to......routine. That's why he "routinely" trounces the competition when he's close to the lead during final rounds. It works in reverse too. His competitors EXPECT him to beat them, and they EXPECT to lose. Does Tiger have a weakness? Yes, his driver. If he ever gets that straightened out, he might very well be invincible. Right now, if he drives the ball well, he's damn near invincible. If he drives the ball bad, he STILL has a shot a winning. That's saying something.
That leads to to this year, or one of those in the near future. Tiger has the best chance of anyone since the great Bobby Jones, of winning all four majors, the grand slam. Of course, when Jones did it, it wasn't what it is now, and the competition wasn't what it is now. Bianchi, and so many others, should simply give Tiger his due and marvel at what they're being blessed to witness. The combination of natural talent, drive and sheer will is so very, very rare.
The NCAA Tournament seeds were announced. I thought that overall, there were not too many surprises. To those "bubble teams" that got left out, well you shoulda won more games. I thought Memphis as a #1 was expected. I thought Tennessee as a #2 was about right, although I wished they were a #1 seed. I really love Bruce Pearl and think he's done a GREAT job at UT. One of my friends used to cover him at Southern Indiana and can attest to what a great coach he is. The Vols are great offensively, but they better learn how to play better defense, or I fear they won't go too far. I'd LOVE to see Memphis (Tiger High) and Tennessee play for the National Championship, but both are not so good at shooting free throws, and this is the time of year that becomes pretty important with more and more teams playing half court games. Why are kids today so HORRIBLE at free throws? Maybe it's because they work so hard on their dunks, but quit playing "21" on the playgrounds! "21" was a popular game when I was growing up. Even today, I can walk to a free throw line at hit 8 out of ten. Remember the rules? If you make a basket, with EVERYBODY guarding you, you go to the free throw line and shoot until you miss. If you were a really good free throw shooter, you could win a lot! You could win even more if you were a good free throw shooter AND rebounder. I remember Popeye Jones who I covered in high school before going on to a great career at Murray State and then a relatively long career in the NBA being asked once about what made him such a good rebounder and free throw shooter, and he responded about the hours he spent as a kid, playing "21." Maybe more college coaches should require their players to play "21!"