Duck and cover
By Dan Wetzel, Yahoo Sports
June 17, 2007
OAKMONT, Pa. – Maybe Tiger Woods needs to lose that fluffy tiger driver cover he totes around, the one he calls "Frank." He's going to be 32 this year, he's the baddest man in golf and he now sports Popeye arms and a back cut out of granite. The days of playing with stuffed animals should be over.
Something needs to happen, that's for sure. Because while Woods remains the most intimidating force in golf, in the last two majors he hasn't been intimidating enough to scare all of his opponents and win.
Overall, Woods has won 12 majors – including the final two of 2006 – but he's never won one when he didn't have the lead after 54 holes. He's never roped anyone in, which even he figures is reasonable to point out.
"Well, I haven't," he said. "(I've) put myself there and haven't gotten it done … My last four majors went 1, 1, 2, 2. Not terrible, but it could have been better."
These are the standards of Tiger Woods. These are the collective expectations of golf fans. Tiger comes out on Sunday and everyone is supposed to crumble in his wake.
"Tiger can birdie any hole," Cabrera pointed out through an interpreter. "He is No. 1."
Which is why this looked like another Woods classic. He took the first tee in a form-fitting no-collar shirt. Both his muscles and glare seemed right out of a local steel mill. It was enough to finish Aaron Baddeley, whose worst decision, you thought, was showing up at Oakmont wearing ghastly blue check pants. It turned out to be just showing up at Oakmont.
One hole, seven strokes and 15 minutes later, Woods had a share of the lead. This was over, correct?
"Just because Badds made seven on the first hole, there were still 17 more holes to play," Woods noted. "It's not like their handing out the trophy on the first hole."
It's true, because while Woods can still make his playing partner melt (Stuart Appleby similarly imploded at The Masters), he seems to be missing his old ability to influence the entire field.
He certainly couldn't rattle Cabrera, who with his 10 o'clock shadow and near constant lit cigarette looked like he was just breezing through a casual Father's Day round.
The 2007 Open didn't do much for the case of health and fitness.
Woods looks like he's been dead-lifting Buicks, Cabrera curling 12-ounce cans. If Woods gets anymore jacked up we'll suspect he's been hanging with Barry Bonds. Cabrera is so out of shape even John Daly told him he had let himself go.
Then there were the cigarettes Cabrera kept plowing through. And, of course, the thick facial stubble, which is understandable since who has time to shave when they have to inhale a pack or two a day?
"Some players have psychologists, sportologists," he said. "I smoke."
All of which is why Cabrera was a blast here, where the course viciousness and final-round pressure turned every other golfer into a sniveling mess. Not Angel. He was smiling and joking throughout. During delays he'd juggle a golf ball off his putter, laugh with his caddy and dream of nicotine and nuggets.
This guy was everything that all those knee-shaking Tiger-frightened runners-up of the past were not. The guy grew up so poor he had to drop out of elementary school to help support his parents. He says golf is the only way he knows to make a living – "I just feel I don't have any other option."
Since you get paid for second place too, no one was rattling a man nicknamed "El Pato," which sounds cool except it means "the Duck." So Tiger couldn't even scare Duck. He couldn't make him crave extra butts.
"I usually smoke 8 to 10 in a round," he said. "This round was not special in terms of number."
Say this about The Duck, his final-round 69 was brilliant, a combination of hammer drives and gutsy putts. Just like Johnson back at Augusta, he didn't just outplay Woods; he caught him on the final day, blew by him and then didn't crumble when everyone thought he would.
Because Woods had just one birdie in his final 32 holes here, it wasn't like he ever really made a move. He basically sat there grinding out pars and tried to wait everyone out.
Spoiled by history and hype, we expected it to work. It didn't. For the second consecutive major, Tiger Woods didn't cast a big enough shadow, didn't scare enough contenders.
So he needs to think of some small adjustment.
"I need to go back and analyze," Woods admitted.
He's lost two Majors by a combined three strokes. He doesn't need much. And since he can't get in much better shape, can't drive the ball much farther and can't look any more serious, maybe he can find a way to intimidate a little more.
Try losing the stuffed animal; that thing is so weak even a duck laughed at it.
Dan Wetzel is Yahoo! Sports' national columnist. He is the co-author of the book "Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series," which following five printings of the first edition was re-released in a second, updated edition in October. Follow him on Twitter. Send Dan a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated on Sunday, Jun 17, 2007 10:44 pm, EDT