Augusta – Tiger and ANA – Lydia This Week
In the world of quantum physics golf, seemingly impossible to pin down, the greatest male player of his generation has fallen out of the top 100, and the new female sensation has become her tour’s number one before her eighteenth birthday. I doubt many of us ever saw that coming, but we’ll have something to look for this week and the next. Will Tiger Woods appear at the Masters, a tournament that, in this era, doesn’t seem right without him? Will Lydia the prodigy break the record of Anna Sorenstam, once considered the greatest of her generation, for consecutive rounds under par? The tale of these two stars is, in either case, a head-scratcher.
Online chatter was buzzing the other day when Tiger’s plane was spotted near Augusta. The reaction was like a live sighting of part Elvis Presley and part Howard Hughes. It must have meant that Tiger would play the 2015 Masters, right? That might be premature, but doesn’t it make sense that if he’s thinking about it, he might drop over for a practice round?
That is precisely what he did. He played a practice round on a course he knows well, one that has given him multiple green jackets. Yesterday, however, he shot a 74, not a score that wins the Masters, but not an 82, either. It’s a score that leaves us in doubt as to Tiger’s appearance next week. His assessment that the practice round isn’t an acceptable level is, for him, true, but it doesn’t sound completely dysfunctional. Many golfers on tour have shot 74 and 66 in the same week. At least this doesn’t sound like a collapsed game anymore. A few weeks ago, he might not won the club championship at my local course.
Lydia Ko, on the other hand, is looking at a completely different sort of pressure. Not only is she beginning a second round of a major this Saturday, and clinging to the number one world ranking by appearing in the top five every week, but one more round under par will break Annika Sorenstam’s record. Emulating Annika in any phase or statistic of the game requires being so, so together, and Lydia is so, so just that. Where Tiger is searching for his lost self, Lydia knows exactly where she is.
Records like consecutive sub-par rounds are peripheral to winning or losing, of course, but even a new player is aware of her place in history. Lydia would like nothing better than to break that record, but it might also interfere with playing the ANA Inspiration this week. Yesterday required getting out of serious trouble to keep the streak alive, and while she might have caught Annika, she didn’t catch Morgan Pressel. Tiger, who was chasing more immortal records, i.e. the Nicklaus majors, has all but called off the pursuit, is staring down the road and changing his perspective to meet reality.
There is no way that I can tell how much of these players’ conditions and responses to individual goals is mental or physical. The impression is, however, that Tiger has spent much of his life wound up to the point of coming apart, which is precisely what has happened, and that Lydia, despite her high level of competitive intensity, has a sunnier and more accepting world view of life’s ups and downs.
That being said, if Lydia were to experience a game collapse, perhaps more like Yani Tseng than like Tiger, we might know more about such a perspective – and such a thing can happen at any time. Meanwhile, she’s on top of the world, and Tiger is lost in the weeds, trying to turn a 74 into something not only better, but something winning, because nothing else will do.