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Tiger is a victim of his own greatness on Astini News

June 10, 2012 12:03 am

By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Before anyone wants to proclaim Tiger Woods is back and on track to resume his chase of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 major championships, consider this:

Woods might have two victories in his past five starts, but he won the events -- the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Memorial -- on courses where he has a combined 12 victories.

That is not to diminish the significance of either of Woods' victories, especially the way he won the Memorial for a fifth time -- with birdies on three of the final four holes, including the ground-shaking, holed pitch shot at No. 16. It just points up that Woods is very comfortable on those courses and certainly looked the part in each victory.

But, after he won at Bay Hill by five shots, Woods went to the Masters as a 4-1 betting favorite and finished tied for 40th, his worst performance there as a professional. Then he embarked on a three-tournament stretch that was the worst of his career.

Now, coming off another victory, he heads to the U.S. Open at the Olympic Club in San Francisco, a course rife with sloping doglegs and small greens that can make any player feel uncomfortable. Is Woods ready to win another major, something he hasn't done since 2008?

More important, does he need to win a major before anybody really believes he's back to some form of his old level?

Curtis Strange, a former two-time U.S. Open champion, believes he does.

"He's won two times this year; nobody else has won more than that," Strange, an ESPN analyst, said last week during a conference call with national golf writers. "So it's been unfair because when he wins, we critique how he wins. It's not just that he wins anymore. But I think down deep inside me, to say he's back to a level of competing every week, yeah, I think he would have to win a major first."

Added ESPN analyst Paul Azinger, a former PGA champion and Ryder Cup captain, "He might have to win a major before people finally say he's back."

Woods, of course, is a victim of his own greatness.

Nobody is surprised when he wins, even after the tumultuous events of the past two years that have ruined his marriage and eroded his public persona. Rather, he has set the bar so high, they are more surprised when he doesn't play well.

And yet, despite three swing changes and several two-year droughts, Woods won his 73rd PGA Tour event last weekend at age 36, tying him with Nicklaus. Woods, though, reached that number 10 years earlier than the Golden Bear.

"In this game, you never have any idea if you have it the next week," said two-time U.S. Open champion Andy North. "You hope you can get on a consistent basis. But what Tiger did through those years where he was ridiculously good is unheard of.

"Guys miss cuts. Guys have a bad week. Guys have issues going off the golf course, and they can't concentrate, business or family. I think it's truly amazing what he did. I surely would think the fact that he's now won twice this year, he's got to be getting a lot closer. But I would think he's going to be successful and consistent again."

Short memory serves well

Phil Mickelson has never won the U.S. Open, but he has a record five second-place finishes -- most recently in 2009 to Lucas Glover.

Mickelson goes to Olympic Club on a somewhat dubious note. He withdrew after shooting 79 in the first round of the Memorial in Dublin, Ohio, citing fatigue.

It was a strange excuse to be offered by Mickelson, who spent the previous week in Europe with his wife. But his playing partners at the Memorial -- Rickie Fowler and Bubba Watson -- said Lefty was visibly distracted by the constant clicking of cell phone cameras and even texted PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem from the course to complain about the problem.

Cell phones are permitted in designated areas of PGA Tour events, but using them as cameras is not allowed during competition.

"The thing about Phil Mickelson is that he's got such a short memory, a better memory than anybody else," Strange said. "He plays poorly sometimes leading up to big events, but he's doing it preparing for that event, and he forgets about his poor play. I don't think, when he goes to Olympic, I don't think he'll remember anything about the last couple of weeks."

Lots of looks

The Links at Firestone Farms would appear to be aptly named, at least for the first five holes.

But perhaps a change in name might be in order, if only because so many aspects of the 18-hole layout in Columbiana, Ohio, have more different looks than Lady Gaga.

And that is a good thing.

Firestone Farms, located almost 60 miles from Pittsburgh, just 7 1/2 miles from the Pennsylvania border, is one of the best daily-fee facilities anywhere, not just in eastern Ohio.

The 7,207-yard layout was designed by Brian Huntley -- he also did Kensington GC in Boardman, Ohio -- and built on more than 200 acres of the original homestead of tire and rubber industrialist Harvey Firestone. As a reminder of its original site, the tees at the par-3 eighth hole feature the original silos from the Firestone farm. Players have to drive through the silos on their way to the green at the 209-yard hole.

Of course, the picturesque eighth is just a prelude to No. 9, a 423-yard, par 4 that doglegs around water that runs the entire left side of the fairway. On a course filled with good-looking holes, this South Carolina-styled beauty is the best.

"The ninth sets you up for the back nine," said director of golf Delmar Campbell. "The way it's designed now, it seems like the course is better as you go."

The reference is to Firestone Farms switching the two nines, making what was the front nine now the back nine. The move was done to improve pace of play, but it also allows the layout to meander toward an 84-acre lake that frames several of the holes, giving Firestone Farms yet another different look -- the one from Florida.

The best is No. 15, a 184-yard par 3 that features five sets of tees from different angles, all of which have to carry the lake to a bulkhead green.

It might be Ohio, and it might be links-style, but Firestone Farms has many different looks.

Dissa and data

• The Greater Pittsburgh Football Officials Association will hold its annual tournament July 21 at Riverview GC in Elizabeth. Entry is $50 and includes dinner. The tournament benefits the Harry Quinn-Ralph Schorr Scholarship Fund. Call 412-974-2473 or email

• The US Golf Camps at Kiski School in Saltsburg begin June 19 and run through Aug. 12. The camps are open to junior golfers ages 9-18. The dates for the weekly camps: June 19-24; June 26-July 1; July 3-8; July 10-15; July 17-22; July 24-29; July 31-Aug. 5; Aug.7-12. Go to for more information.

Gerry Dulac:; twitter: @gerrydulac. Listen to "The Golf Show with Gerry Dulac" every Thursday from 7-8:30 p.m. on 970 ESPN.
First Published June 10, 2012 12:00 am
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