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Monday, March 26, 2012

A Letter to Tiger

Dear Tiger,

Please, please win tomorrow. Pretty please?

After the incident which caused you physical pain and in the process, revealed your less-than-admirable "extracurricular activities," I was completely grossed out, unsympathetic and never expected to root for you again.

But after nearly two and a half years, I have changed my tune as you hold a 1-shot lead going into the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational and here I am, begging you to win. If there's any stop on the Tour that can get you back on track, this is the place. You love Bay Hill! After all, you've won there six times. It seems like this would be a fitting place to finally log a PGA Tour victory for the first time in 30 months.

You were back on your game Saturday, dare I say, old-school-Tiger style, leading by 4 shots after 13. Then, you were tested. You bogey'd the 14th and followed up with a disastrous shot on the 15th which sent your ball trespassing poolside on some home owner's property. Yes, 15 was ugly, landing you your first double bogey in 247 holes on the Tour this season, but that's okay! You hung in there, stayed calm and still managed to shoot 1-under 71, good for a 1-stroke lead.

Remember how incredibly clutch you used to be when taking a lead into the final round? You were as close to unbeatable as it gets, winning 48 of 52 PGA Tour events in which you started Sunday on top. This week at Bay Hill, you are excelling on the toughest parts of the course, birdying 10 of the 12 par-5's you've played through the first three rounds, outperforming the field by an average of 7 shots in that category.

Look, I know you've come really close to winning recently, yet came up short in the end. But this isn't the Australian Open or Abu Dhabi. It's Bay Hill, a place where you will get your mojo back.

Sure, Phil Mickelson is a fan favorite and the rise of young Rory McIlroy has been fun to watch (and is somewhat reminiscent of you), but the sport just isn't the same without you, Tiger Woods, in contention on the back 9. Golf just isn't that fun without your eye-of-the-tiger-death-stare scaring the pants off the competition down the stretch.

Listen, you don't have to win 'em all, but "71" doesn't sit well with me. As ludicrous as it sounds, you are better than 71 Tour victories. Your talent should have easily taken you beyond 14 Majors, but I'll try not to get ahead of myself.

72 has seemed like an impossible task, but I implore you to please get there tomorrow. Put on your finest red Nike swag and get your signature fist-pump ready because I think you, Tiger Woods, are ready to be a winner once again.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Rory backs his smac and takes over as top Dog as well.

What does a guy have to do to get top billing? Rory McIlroy just won more than $1 million with a victory at the Honda Classic which catapulted him to the top of the standings where at 22 years old, he is now the No. 1 golfer in the world. McIlroy has three PGA Tour wins - including the 2011 U.S. Open - on his resume, and he's dating the world's 4th-ranked tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki. Despite living a fairytale-like life at the moment, the young man from Northern Ireland is being overshadowed by another golfer.

Although McIlroy is No. 1, "Tiger" is on the tip of everyone's tongue after Woods' shot a spectacular 62 in the final round of the Honda Classic, leaving him two shots behind McIlroy for a second place finish (Tom Gillis tied Woods as the runner up). Starting the day nine shots behind McIlroy, Woods dazzled his way up the leader board, at one point trailing McIlroy by only one stroke. 62 is Wood's best-ever final round score in a PGA Tour event.

Not too shabby.

Nearly everything went well for Woods who logged two eagles and three birdies in Sunday's final round while McIlroy struggled mightily at times, looking like he might not earn a first place finish. Instead of letting the game get away from him, McIlroy made the best of potentially nasty situations on the 15th and 17th with two impressive up-and-downs out of bunkers good for par on both holes.

Perhaps the biggest "goosebump" moment for McIlroy came on the 13th hole where he was preparing to putt an 8-footer for birdie when he heard the crowd going nuts from the 18th. Woods had just eagled the hole, putting him within one measly shot of the Irishman. McIlroy made his birdie putt, reclaiming a two-stroke lead.

But don't think he wasn't shaking in his boots a bit. After the tournament, McIlroy told reporters, "It was tough today, especially when Tiger made a charge and posted 10 under."

Ya, no kidding! That comment is a far cry from those he made during the Honda Classic last year when the young, then up-and-coming McIlroy had this to say about a down and out Woods:

"When Tiger had that aura, I wasn't playing against him - I was watching on TV.

"I remember getting nervous when I first met him. I was 15. There was a presence about him. There still is to some extent but when you're on the course you simply block it out.

"But Tiger is not playing as well as he was even a couple of years ago, never mind going back to the late 1990s and early 2000s, when he was at his best.

"I'm not sure we are going to see him dominate again the way he did.

"It's not that he's playing badly. He's simply playing badly by Tiger's standards. He's playing like an ordinary golfer."

Wowzah!

Listen, young Rory was right, but saying this stuff on the record, as a 21-year-old scrub taking the tour by storm, probably wasn't such a bright idea.

Either way, Woods managed to set McIlroy straight with his play today, despite losing the tournament. While a competitor such as Woods is never satisfied with a moral victory like this one, his fantastic final round surely gave the man who once held the world's No. 1 ranking for a record 623 weeks that much more confidence, which will eventually propel him to his first PGA Tour win since 2009.

After the tournament, Tiger tweeted the following:

@TigerWoods: Congrats to @mcilroyrory on getting to No. 1. Thanks to PB fans for all the love this week.

At 21 years and 10 months old, McIlroy became the second-youngest player in golf history to be ranked No. 1, right behind you-know-who. 15 years ago, Woods was 21 years and 6 months old when he shot to the top of the rankings in 1997.

Apparently, love was in the air in Palm Beach Gardens Sunday as McIlroy dished out plenty of compliments to Woods as well. "I always had putts on the putting green when I was 10 to beat Tiger Woods or to beat Phil Mickelson. But hopefully it would be great to turn that into reality at some point," McIlroy told reporters. "They are the best two golfers of this generation, and obviously Tiger's the best by a long way. It's quite an honor just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those two guys."

That's right son. Respect your elders.

After details of Woods' personal life unfolded publicly, I was pretty disgusted and thought I could never root for him again, but as we've seen over and over again in this country, time and winning heals most wounds. Woods has become the unlikeliest of underdogs and I, along with most in the sport of golf, am praying that he will soon provide us with the drama, skill and splendor that was once routine with nearly ever tournament in which he played.

What could be better for golf than a Woods/McIlroy pairing on a Sunday?

Okay, maybe Woods/Mickelson. But you get the point.

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