Commentary

Dissing Woods hasn't been the soundest strategy

Updated: August 6, 2007, 5:07 PM ET
By Gene Wojciechowski | ESPN.com

Please, Rory Sabbatini, say something. Anything. Do a John Travolta to Uma Thurman in "Pulp Fiction" and stick a syringe's worth of adrenaline into the PGA Championship's chest right now. Go ahead. You know you want to.

Tiger Woods (C), Rory Sabbatini of South Africa (L) and Kenny Perry
Stuart Franklin/Getty ImagesWoods shakes hands with Rory Sabbatini (in yellow) and Kenny Perry after winning Bridgestone Invitational on Sunday.
Maybe something like: I don't know what's receding faster on Tiger Woods, his hairline or his fairways hit.

Or: Knock, knock. Who's there? Tiger. Tiger who? Exactly my point.

Or: Tiger has won the same number of majors as I have this year: zero. No wonder he's doing razor ads. Must need the money for his kid's college fund.

Sabbatini is the greatest thing on the PGA Tour since John Daly's mullet and women who walk the course in 5-inch heels. He'll say anything, and some of what he says is directed at the world's No. 1-ranked player, Woods.

Generally speaking, this is a very bad idea. Woods can hold a grudge longer than it takes to explain the FedEx Cup. He has a photographic memory when it comes to someone dissing him. And no one has verbally gigged him more than Sabbatini.

The South African pro is fearless and maybe a bit clueless. He's like a dachshund growling at, well, a Tiger. Isn't it great? An actual rivalry.

Sabbatini is the guy who, three months ago at the Wachovia Championship, said he wanted to be in the final group with Woods. Woods shot 69, Sabbatini shot 74. Woods won.

A few days later, Sabbatini said Woods was "as beatable as ever." This is like telling Randy "The Natural" Couture that he couldn't fight his way out of a wet, paper UFC octagon. Some things you keep to yourself.

Not Sabbatini. He didn't back down, not even after Woods mentioned that he already had as many wins in 2007 as Sabbatini had in his eight-year PGA Tour career. And he kept yapping, even after losing to Woods again this past Sunday at the Bridgestone Invitational.

Sabbatini, who led by one going into the final round, shot another Wachovia-like 74 while Woods, playing in the same threesome, posted a 65 for the eight-stroke victory.

"Everyone knows how Rory is," Woods said afterward.

"Well, good, I hope I inspire him," Sabbatini said. "I hope I inspire him and play well enough that I can give him a good challenge."

Agitating Tiger

Talking trash to Tiger Woods is nothing new. But it rarely pays dividends. Some examples:

"I'm respectful of his game and his persona. But we're just two human beings trying to put a little ball in the hole." -- Sergio Garcia after shooting 67 in third round at 2002 U.S. Open at Bethpage. The next day, Woods shot 72 to win. Garcia shot 74 and finished fourth.

"Anything can happen. Especially where he's hitting the ball." -- Stephen Ames said it with a smile prior to 2006 Accenture Match Play Championship first-round meeting. Woods won every hole on the front nine and took a 9-and-8 victory.

Tiger who?" -- Lettering on the back of a cap worn by Vijay Singh's caddie Paul Tesori during a 2000 Presidents Cup match, the day after Singh and Retief Goosen had beaten Woods and Notah Begay III. Woods defeated Singh 2 and 1 in a match marked by an absence of conceded putts.

"The funny thing is, after watching him play last Sunday, I think he's more beatable than ever. I think there's a few fortuitous occasions out there that really changed the round for him at Wachovia. And realizing that gives me even more confidence to go in and play with him on Sunday again." -- Rory Sabbatini less than a week after Woods shot 69 to win at Wachovia Championship while Sabbatini shot 74. Paired with Woods again at the Bridgestone Invitational, Woods shot 65 to win; Sabbatini shot 74 to finish tied for second.
I hope Sabbatini pops off again this week at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Okla. I hope he keeps poking at Woods' ego until Woods shoots the first-ever round of 55, preferably at this week's PGA Championship. Then the CBS cameras can record Sabbatini getting stuffed into a head cover by his fellow pros.

Sabbatini is great golf theater. And while I sort of admire his nerve, there are three things you should never do in golf: (1) ask Daly for marriage advice, (2) ask Phil Mickelson if you should "baby-carve" a driver on No. 18 at Winged Foot when leading the U.S. Open by a shot, (3) question Woods' ability to win.

This is what Sabbatini did. Good for us and story lines, bad for Sabbatini. Woods does what Michael Jordan used to do: He turns a slight into a villain. He invents an adversary. He plays the course, but he also makes a statement to anyone who doubts him.

Remember Stephen Ames? Ames is the guy who suffered a blood-flow problem to his brain shortly before his match against Woods at the 2006 Accenture Match Play Championship. That's the only explanation for what he said about Tiger.

"Anything can happen," Ames said. "Especially where he's hitting the ball."

Woods saw the remarks and worked himself into a small twister of rage. Woods birdied the first six holes and seven of the first eight. You could have hosed Ames off the front bumper of the Tiger-mobile.

Asked afterward for his reaction to Ames' comments, Woods simply said, "9 and 8."

That was the score of the match.

Remember the 2000 Presidents Cup? Vijay Singh's caddie, Paul Tesori, showed up on the first tee wearing a "Tiger Who" hat. Oh, boy.

"I had been on [Singh's] bag three months," Tesori once told me. "I was carrying for the International Team. It was a fun thing to wear. Guys at the range said, 'You should wear it.' "

He did. Woods and teammate Notah Begay III beat Singh and Ernie Els 1-up.

"It was a na´ve thing," said nice guy Tesori. "At the end of the round -- and it was a huge life lesson for me -- I actually went up to Tiger and said, 'Hey, bro, I meant no disrespect to you at all.' "

Too late. Woods and Begay beat Singh and Els two out of the three times they played, and Woods defeated Singh in singles play, 2 and 1. Woods didn't concede a putt to Singh the entire match.

Woods lives for competition, for majors. Or as Tesori put it, "I think Tiger's fueled by being the best player he can be. It's like, 'I want to be the best player who ever lived.' "

Yes, he's 31. Yes, he just had a baby daughter and he changes poopy diapers. And yes, he still wants to bury you by double-digit strokes.

Woods isn't a lock to win the PGA Championship. But he's coming off a dominating performance at the difficult Firestone Country Club (he was the only player to finish under par) and he's due to win a major after finishing with second-place ties at the Masters and the U.S. Open and a disappointing (for him) 12th-place tie at the recent British Open.

Plus, there are always his secret weapons.

Sabbatini and Ames are in Tulsa too.

Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at gene.wojciechowski@espn3.com.

Gene Wojciechowski | email

Columnist / College Football reporter

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