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Wanted ... Mental Winners

April 18, 2002|BY DAN KAUFFMAN

You know what the PGA Tour desperately needs? A shrink.

Sorry ... the more politically correct term is sports psychologist.

Whatever.

Other than Tiger Woods - who has no right to complain about anything - these other duffers have some serious problems, and those problems are affecting the quality of television.

I'm serious. Did you watch the final round of the Masters? According to the ratings, you did. My guess is, most people fell asleep before changing the channel.

I have the whole disasterous thing on tape, and it has as much replay value as "Glitter" - none.

Six of the top seven golfers in the world were on the leaderboard at the start of the final round. Only two broke par, none broke 70 and some of them turned into weekend hackers like you and me.

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These are the best golfers in the world?

Granted, the hole locations were brutal, and the course played long. But the greens weren't nearly as hard or as fast as they could have been were it not for all the rain, and low scores were possible - proven by Shigeki Maruyama's final-round 67.

So what happened, guys?

Take nothing away from Tiger. He's the best golfer in the world, bar none. But let's be serious - he didn't win the Masters. He was handed the green jacket on a silver platter by those who are supposedly his toughest challengers. You could hear the back-up beeps all over Augusta on Sunday.

How can all these guys be this bad on the same day? Let's break it down.

Phil Mickelson: Love his game. Love his daring, go-for-it-all attitude. Love how Lefty won't change his style and give in to media pressure.

But how many times can a guy watch putt after putt after doggone putt roll an inch left, an inch right, or an inch short of the hole on a major Sunday without snapping?

Mickelson probably puts more pressure on himself than anyone else in the world. He carries that dreaded best-golfer-never-to-have-won-a-major label with him everywhere, and that's not easy.

But someone needs to tap him on the shoulder and tell him he's got everyone ... and I mean, EVERYONE ... rooting for him. He needs to know he's loved.

(Doesn't this sound exactly like something a shrink would say?)

The day Mickelson finally wins a major, there won't be a dry eye in the golfing world, guaranteed.

Ernie Els: Great golfer. The Big Easy. Two U.S. Opens in his possession, and not many golfers can say that. Not even Woods.

So what in the world were you thinking on No. 13?

To recap ... drive goes left, somehow missing Rae's Creek and winding up in the wilderness. You've got one realistic shot, a pitch sideways back onto the fairway. Simple, right?

Right?

No, you try to advance the ball toward the green, through a window in the trees the size of - well, your average window.

Please turn to KAUFFMAN, C4

Really, Ernie ... even Lefty knows better than to play that shot.

You wind up, predictably, in the creek. Drop. Hit next shot into a tributary in front of the green.

Triple bogey. Goodbye, green jacket. Hello, big bills for therapy.

Vijay Singh: Hardest worker on the Tour. Turned himself into one of the best with his grinding style. Already owns a green jacket.

His golden shot at another one drowns at No. 15. Not once. Twice.

Really ... after leaving your approach shot short and in the creek the first time, wouldn't you make sure you didn't do it again? Learn from your mistakes, or pay the shrink.

And I didn't even get to Retief Goosen or Sergio Garcia, who disappeared altogether.

At a time when golf desperately needs someone to step up and not just challenge Tiger at a major, but beat him straight up, no one seems capable.

Arnold Palmer had Jack Nicklaus, and golf got better. Tom Watson challenged Nicklaus, and golf got better yet. Tiger launched golf into a new era. But for golf to take the next step, someone has to challenge and beat Woods consistently when it matters most - in the majors.

It could be Mickelson. It could be Els. It could be Garcia. It could be Chris DiMarco, David Toms, David Duval, Ty Tryon or any number of others.

It must be someone ... and it must be soon. Because if everyone continues falling short of Tiger, golf will soon fall short itself.

Dan Kauffman is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at kauffman@herald-mail.com or 301-733-5131 ext. 2334.

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