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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Seve, Sergio, and Tiger

Evidently, the great Spanish golfer, Seve Ballesteros, often tried to disrupt his opponents' in a variety of ways.  For example, sometimes, just as his opponent was about to make a shot, Seve would reach into his pocket and jingle a few coins or keys just loud enough for his opponent to hear (but no one else). What's interesting, is that when Seve was in his prime (e.g., when he won the British Open at St. Andrews in 1984 -- I was there), few, if any, of his opponents publicly complained about his gamesmanship. If they did, not only would they sound like whiners, but (more importantly) Seve would know that he'd gotten inside their head and his probability of winning had just increased.

It's somewhat ironic, then, that another Spanish golfer, Sergio Garcia, recently complained about Tiger Woods's attempts at gamesmanship. This past week at the Tournament Players Championship (TPC), Tiger removed a club from his bag just before Sergio was about to shoot. This, in turn, led the crowd around Tiger to cheer (not sure why) and Sergio's shot went awry. Replays show, however, that Garcia had not begun to swing. He could have stepped away, gathered himself, and then taken his shot, something professional golfers do all the time. But he didn't.

There's some debate as to whether Tiger reached for his club at exactly that time on purpose or not.  He claims that one of the course marshals told him that Garcia had already hit, so that's why he took the club out of his bag. The head TPC Marshal disputed Tiger's account, claiming that there was no communication between Tiger and the marshals, but yesterday two other marshals came forward and said that there was such communication ("Course Marshals: Tiger Didn't Lie"). In fact one of the two indicated that he was the marshal who told Tiger that Sergio had hit.

Regardless, Sergio should have kept his mouth shut. The moment he complained to the media about what Tiger had done, Tiger knew that he'd gotten into Garcia's head. And sure enough, the next day at the 17th hole, with Garcia and Tiger tied, Garcia plunked two balls into the water (he also hit one into the water on 18). Tiger didn't and went on to win the TPC. As others have pointed out, there's a reason why Tiger has won more tournaments and more majors (14 -- 16 if you count his US Amateur wins) than Sergio has (Sergio has yet to win a major). He has what it takes to win.

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