In the span of seven days, Tiger Woods went from a disappointing finish at Bay Hill to a prosaic victory at Doral.
What a difference a week makes, huh?
How did it happen? How did Woods turn things around so quickly?
Jason Sobel and Bob Harig ruminate and investigate in their weekly e-mail discussion on Alternate Shot.
Sobel: Well, that sure answered any questions we had, huh? A week ago, we were trying to figure out what to make of Tiger's back-nine struggles at Bay Hill. Now it seems the resounding answer to that question is, "Not much at all." The only problem with Woods' game at Doral was that he was so good he made it boring to watch.
Harig: Because of who he is and what he has accomplished, Tiger's "struggles" will always be overanalyzed, by us included. For example, despite his easy victory on Sunday, I'm sure he was not happy with his putting. It's always something.
Sobel: And I guess that's what makes the great ones so great. They don't walk away from victories with just a big smile and a trophy. They learn something about themselves, about their games -- and they keep improving because of it.
Harig: The way Tiger won Sunday is probably the best thing for him going into the Masters. He knows he's hitting the ball well enough, but there were just enough issues not to get overconfident -- not that he ever does. Still, he'll have a checklist of things to work on this week.
Sobel: Look, he was going to be the prohibitive favorite at Augusta National even if he finished dead last this week. But what Woods accomplished at Doral eliminates any questions about his game entering the year's first major. I think after this latest performance we'd be more surprised if he didn't win the green jacket.
Harig: Well, I'm not so sure there wouldn't have been a ton of questions if he had finished dead last, but I understand the point. No matter what happened at Doral, his recent run of success was going to make him the man to beat at Augusta. He's got to feel very good about his chances.
Sobel: And he's got to feel pretty good that of his likeliest competition, Phil Mickelson has looked rather pedestrian lately, Ernie Els is playing just OK and Retief Goosen isn't doing much. I know majors can never be considered foregone conclusions, but I've got to wonder how anyone can pick against Tiger right now.
Harig: I wonder if he even worries about the competition or thinks about it other than when we bring it up. He's worried about himself, thinking about his own game, knowing that it's pretty good and should stand up pretty nicely to whoever gets his game together.
Sobel: Sure, and quite honestly, I think almost every player thinks more about his own game than what any other guy is doing anyway, so I'm not sure Tiger is any different. But knowing the other players -- especially Phil, who's won two of the last three Masters -- aren't on top of their games can't hurt the ol' confidence level.
Harig: And it doesn't hurt to know that he didn't have his best stuff Sunday and still won. A good round by somebody might have made things interesting but in the end it was still a relatively easy victory.
Sobel: Sure, that approach by Brett Wetterich on the final hole at least had us on the edge of our seats for, oh, three or four minutes, but really no one made much of a run at Tiger. I think the world is starting to realize that this has less to do with an intimidation factor and more to do with the fact that, as Geoff Ogilvy said on Sunday, "He's just better than us."
Harig: And he's a better thinker, too. There's a reason Tiger wins all the time with the lead. He takes advantage of the cushion he is given. He had no problem hitting an iron off the tee at 18 and playing for bogey, knowing that a Wetterich birdie still couldn't get him.
Sobel: I wonder how many other players would have had the presence of mind to even think of that. No matter what the leaderboard read, most guys would have stepped up to the mighty par-4 18th and simply banged a driver as far as possible. Woods knew that unless Wetterich pulled a Craig Parry, he could make bogey and still win.
Harig: It's hard to do because the last thing you want to do is lay up and still make a mistake. Had Woods three-putted the last green, his strategy would not have looked too good. But he was confident that if he took all the trouble out of play, he'd be fine. And he was.
Sobel: Now the rest of the world's elite players have to spend a week-and-a-half ruminating about going to Augusta with Tiger firing on all cylinders. Even if he doesn't intimidate them, it's got to demoralize the other guys a bit, doesn't it?
Harig: No question, especially when Ogilvy says what he did. There's no shame in admitting that, but it does have to be tough being an elite golfer and knowing that sometimes your best might not be good enough if Tiger is around.