Lateral Hazard: Measuring Tiger Woods' quantity vs. Adam Scott's quality

Brian Murphy
Yahoo! Sports
Lateral Hazard: Measuring Tiger Woods' quantity vs. Adam Scott's quality
Lateral Hazard: Measuring Tiger Woods' quantity vs. Adam Scott's quality

That little patch of grass between the Nike swoosh on Tiger's golf ball and the 18th hole at Liberty National Golf Course on Sunday (maybe, what, three-quarters of an inch?), was that the difference between Adam Scott and Tiger Woods winning PGA Tour Player of the Year?


Could be. The whole scene was enough to make a world number one player grimace twice – first from the kind of back spasm a soon-to-be 38-year-old suffers; second, because his golf ball stayed one rotation away from forcing a playoff with Scott, the man who right now appears to be the lead horse in the POY race, which is determined by player vote.

After all, here is the New Math: Tiger's five wins are not equal to Scott's two wins. Nope. Not when one of the two wins is the Masters, and second of the two wins is the first leg of the FedEx Cup playoffs. That math is made more striking when the second win is one stroke ahead of the guy with five wins – none of which is a major or a Fed Ex playoff leg.

Now, just think if Tiger, doing that Willis Reed thing we've seen him do through the years, walking stiffly, making obvious his pain, had rolled home that 20-footer from the fringe for birdie, then gone on to win the playoff hole against Scott. We'd be looking a guy who birdied the final three holes at Liberty National, just three holes after falling to his knees on the 13th fairway with what he later admitted was a crippling back spasm. We'd be looking at a guy with six (!) wins in 2013. We'd be looking at a guy with career win No. 80, two short of tying Sam Snead.

In that case, one could argue, six wins are greater than one win, even when the one win is the Masters. 

Yep. That little patch of grass. Three-quarters of an inch. The difference between rose petals tossed towards a gritty Tiger comeback; and a Steve Williams bro-hug for the 2013 Flavor of the Year Scott, the impossible-to-dislike Aussie who employs as his caddie the impossible-to-like Kiwi. Not only is Scott now No. 2 in the world, he is the kind of guy who is gracious and thoughtful enough to use his 30 post-tournament seconds on CBS to give a shout out to his newborn niece, Olivia – the sort of quality that endears one to Scott and helps you overlook the fact that he putts with some sort of alien contraption that goes up to his neck and requires the kind of grip better used on an oceanic oil platform. 

There is still time for Tiger to leave his mark on 2013. There are still three stages of the FedEx Cup playoffs to go, starting with the second stop this Friday at TPC Boston for the Labor Day finish. Tiger wouldn't say if he'll be healthy enough to play, but one might imagine the guy who uses drama as adrenaline wouldn't miss it. He has a damsel to please, too. His main squeeze, Lindsey Vonn, tweeted out moments after Tiger's final-round 69 was one stroke shy: "Proud of my man for fighting back. He's the toughest person I know. #fighter #nothingcanholdhimdown."

A cynic might say major championship events of the last five-plus years have held him down, but that would only be a cruel reminder. Right now, it's Adam Scott's world, and Tiger has work to do if he wants to salvage 2013's major-less campaign with an ongoing record 11th Player of the Year. It's a game of inches, after all. Sometimes less than an inch, even.

SCORECARD OF THE WEEK

66-65-70-78 – 5-under 279, Matt Kuchar, tie-19th, The Barclays, PGA Tour Fed Ex Cup playoffs, Liberty National GC, Jersey City, N.J.

Philosophical question: When you are known for your infectious grin on the golf course, are you allowed to not grin when you completely and totally implode on the doorstep of victory?

Matt Kuchar, feel free to scowl.

The guy everyone calls 'Kooch' because we all feel like we know him because he's always so easy and breezy and smiley on the golf course went south on Sunday. Kooch pretty much watched his golf game end up somewhere in the swamps of Jersey. As a Jersey guy named Springsteen might sing to that thought: May the Lord have mercy.

One of the more curious facts about Adam Scott's win was that he started his final round six shots off the lead, with some serious names ahead of him. Among those names was the guy six shots ahead of him, Kuchar, who already has two wins in 2013.

How unusual was Kuchar's train wreck, which began with a bogey on No. 1, moved swiftly and earnestly with a triple bogey on No. 9, then asserted its argument with bogeys on Nos. 10, 13, 15 and 17 before an almost comical birdie at the last hole?

Consider: It was Kuchar's worst final round of 2013. It was starkly uncharacteristic of a player who ranked top-30 on Tour in final-round scoring average (70.11). And it was only better than Josh Teater's 79 and Jonas Blixt's 81 in the entire field Sunday. 

Plus, Blixt had an excuse, since he was distracted by dressing in Rickie Fowler's all-orange outfit in some sort of ill-conceived stunt because he was paired with Fowler.

(Quick side note on Blixt dressing like Fowler to show solidarity with his Puma brother: A buddy once told me that he and his friends got an adrenaline rush in college and thought it would be hilarious to hop in the car in L.A. and drive to Vegas to party all night – while dressed like Mr. Furley from "Three's Company". You know, the vest and the polyester and the scarf and all that. True story. As my buddy said to me: "Once we got to Vegas, let me assure you – there was nothing hilarious or cool about being dressed like Mr. Furley from 'Three's Company'.")

That's how I sort of felt about Blixt's all-orange. Hey, it's a scream if you shoot 65. But let me assure you – there is nothing cool about being dressed in all-orange when you shoot 81 on a Sunday at a FedEx Cup event. To Blixt's credit, he delivered a droll tweet after the round: "Not wearing orange again …"

It's the ellipses after the tweet that makes it, full of possibility as to what he left out.

Anyway, back to Kuchar. I'm in a fantasy betting league, and one of our challenges was to select a top-25 player from the FedEx Cup rankings, other than Tiger, for the four-tournament duration. It was almost a stampede in the league to draft Kuchar, who seems born for these kinds of events; no major championship pressure, consistency rewarded, et cetera. And then, the Sunday 78. The plummet from tie-1st to tie-19th. 

There's almost no explaining how a guy that steady can go that sideways. Except, you know, it's golf. And golf is hard.

BROADCAST MOMENT OF THE WEEK

"That's a hypothetical. Right now, I'm not feeling my best." – Tiger Woods, to CBS' Matt Gogel, about whether his back felt good enough to play Friday at TPC Boston.

Credit to two people here. One, to Gogel, who is not exactly Mike Wallace in those on-course interviews. But here, he asked Tiger what treatment his back would need, and when Tiger did what he's been doing since age 10 and completely blew off the question by recounting his back nine, Gogel re-loaded and asked again. 

Will you play in the next event, he asked?

Nice work, young Jedi! Tiger, having fired his non-answer bullet, gave the above answer, then didn't do any more media. So, we at least have that on record. 

The second hat-tip goes to Golf Digest's Sam Weinman, a sharp cookie who accurately tweeted out: "Actually, Tiger, a hypothetical would be: Suppose there was a golf tournament next week. Now, suppose you were asked to play . . . "

Rimshot! He's right, of course. We all expect more from our Stanford products, right? Maybe if Tiger had stayed long enough to graduate, he'd differentiate between a hypothesis and a question from Matt Gogel.

MULLIGAN OF THE WEEK

On a day of so much wreckage – Gogel's 78, Gary Woodland's failed three birdie tries on 16, 17 and 18, Kevin Chappell's back-nine lead disintegrating into a 7-over finish over his final eight holes – the mind still drifts back to Tiger.

After the back spasm on the 13th fairway – on a swing that sent his ball into an algae-ridden swamp, no less – he spent the next six holes curtsying to remove his ball from the cup. He was clearly not right, and yet here he came with those birdies on 16 and 17 and then the roll from the back fringe on 18.

So close, and yet so far.

Nick Faldo had surmised on CBS that Tiger's back was so tender, we wouldn't have seen the trademark Tiger fist pump had the final birdie fallen on 18, but I'm not so sure. The frustrated shut of Tiger's eyes as his ball stubbornly stayed above ground showed how much it hurt. Had it fallen, the adrenaline rush might have overcome any pain, and we might have seen the kind of Tiger reaction we hadn't seen since Torrey Pines in '08, the holy-moley-am-I-hurting-but-man-does-this-feel-sweet body spasm of joy.

Plus, then we would have had a Tiger-Adam Scott playoff, with Steve Williams there and all that. Fun, denied.

So let's go back out to the back fringe of 18, give Tiger another roll, remind him to give it one extra iota of oomph and ... give that Tiger a mulligan! Then, let the celebration begin.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Onward the top 100 players in the rankings go, to TPC Boston for Leg 2 of this four-tournament FedEx Cup playoff, starting Friday for a Labor Day finish. My stance on the FedEx Cup has been consistent for the last few years: I will never hardly remember who won a FedEx Cup; I have trouble firing up for a guy winning a $10 million jackpot when that's really the only thing he's playing for; these events have none of the majesty or prestige of the majors and never will ... and yet, I am thankful the PGA Tour came up with something (in this case, $$$) to keep the best players playing into September.

After all, 10 years ago at this time, Phil Mickelson would be off doing Philly Mick things, like working on a machine that reverses the process of aging, or studying the San Diego Chargers depth chart. Instead, we got to enjoy Lefty's sterling Sunday charge at Liberty National on Sunday, a 65 that ended just two strokes shy of a playoff. That'll work for my couch potato viewing experience.

Will Tiger play? The bet here says he will. And we don't traffic in hypotheticals around here; only solid conjecture.


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