2020 Masters Choose Your Own Adventure, Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson: Lady Luck
Harry How/Getty Images for The Match
Pushed into that right bunker.
Many people who have observed Woods’ career believe he simply dominated for so long because he was just that much better than everybody else — and they wouldn’t be wrong with that assessment. But there’s another key to his dominance that often goes overlooked: He is the ultimate creature of habit.
This phrase is often used in terms of his scheduling. Even the most casual fan can predict most events that Tiger will usually play, injury and other issues notwithstanding. It extends way beyond that, though. He learned to win early in his career — before he ever turned professional, really — then extended that knowledge to major championships. And so it can be attested that his dominance was just a habit. That can also help explain why each of his first 14 major titles — all of them until last year’s Masters — came when he was leading or sharing the lead after 54 holes. Again, that was his habit.
Not all habits are good ones, though — even if you’re Tiger.
A dozen years ago, during his injury-shortened season of 2008, Woods teed it up on the Sunday before Masters week for a practice round. He approached the first tee of Augusta National with exactly 14 people in attendance, still munching on the remains of a sandwich from the clubhouse. Under considerably less pressure than he’d feel seven days later, Woods pulled out his driver, took a mighty whack and pushed it a little too far right, finding the fairway bunker.
“Every year,” he lamented under his breath.
He’s a creature of habit. Undoubtedly, most of the habits from his playing career have been good ones — from learning to win tournaments to reading putts to practice routines. Every once in a while, though, those bad habits creep in.
You remember that story from 2008 as you watch Woods flare his opening tee shot into that bunker once again. From there, he comes up short of the green, chips it close and saves par. On the second hole, his second shot just barely finds the lip of the left greenside bunker and the tough lie results in only par again.
That continues to be a theme throughout the round.
Sure, he could be playing better, but really every single one of his decent shots spins too much or takes a bad kick or, yes, is up against a bunker lip. On the ninth hole, still even-par for his round, Woods endures golf’s greatest indignity: His approach shot is all over the stick — so much so, in fact, that it hits the flagstick right at the base, caroming off the front of the green, and he winds up making bogey. Inches from eagle and he makes bogey instead. That’s just plain ol’ bad luck.