Pressure Cooker – A Tiger Woods Recipe

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“You don’t know what pressure is until you play for five bucks with only two bucks in your pocket” – Lee Trevino

“I always feel pressure. If you don’t feel nervous, that means you don’t care about how you play. I care about how I perform. I’ve always said the day I’m not nervous playing is the day I quit.” – Tiger Woods

What a weekend of golf.

Tiger Woods did it!

He won his fifth Masters Championship and 15th major overall. His first green jacket since 2005 and his first major since 2008. Even if you are not a fan, you have to admit it was a very emotional scene when Tiger knocked in that final putt and was able to celebrate it with his kids. My whole family got misty. You have to be proud of him.

He completed an improbable comeback from debilitating back injuries and personal woes that would have had most people hiding from the public eye, let alone jumping into one of the most pressure-packed sporting events.

Who saw it coming? Not me. If you read last week’s column, you know I thought Tiger was playing well but just didn’t think he was ‘major-golf ready.’ He had limited rounds of golf in, and even his caddy, Joe LaCava, agreed. He thought his chipping and putting were a major weakness heading into the weekend. It just didn’t seem probable.

He proved us all wrong.

Except maybe for the guy who bet $85k on Tiger to win. Ugh.

How did Tiger do it?

I think he just handled the pressure better than anyone else over the course of four days. He was steady, but not spectacular, for the first three days. But he took it to another level on Sunday.

The leaderboard could not have been more intimidating as the fourth round kicked off. There were six previous majors winners (Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari and Tiger) all within five strokes of the lead. Add to that a few of the hottest golfers currently on the Tour in Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele and Ian Poulter, and it was going to be an epic day.

But as Sunday wore on, one golfer after another got close to the lead only to succumb to the pressure. Molinari, playing in the final group with Tiger, had made just one bogey since the first round but bogeyed No. 7 and put two balls in the water; one on No. 12 and another at No. 15. His day was over. Koepka, Finau and Poulter all found the water on No. 12, and it proved disastrous. None were able to get back into contention.

Golf is a brutally tough game to begin with. Add any kind of pressure to the equation, and it just becomes exponentially more difficult to properly swing a golf club. It showed on Sunday.

Tiger seems to know how to corral any nervousness and use it to his advantage. Look at the shot he hit on No. 16. With the pressure ratcheted up to the highest degree, he tapped into all his vast course knowledge, using the slope of the green to perfection, and the ball settled inches from the hole for a birdie. Game, set, match. It gave him a two-stroke lead, and he coasted to the finish line. Amazing.

Being able to consistently repeat his swing under that kind of pressure is what sets Tiger apart from most tour players. This is not to say he hasn’t slipped on a few occasions, but he seems to be able to dig the deepest when the spotlight is the brightest.

If he never wins another tournament or just slowly fades into the sunset, you must admire this spectacular performance. For one weekend he showed why the golf world has waited with bated breath for his return. He showed everyone it was worth the wait.

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About Author

John D. Hunter is Montana native but grew up in the Tacoma/Seattle area and proudly attended Washington State University. He is a former morning show producer on KJR SportsRadio in Seattle. For 7 years he produced ‘Knight in the Morning’ with Michael Knight and New York Vinnie. From there he moved to ESPN.com where he spent another 7 years as an Interactive Editor and Soccer reporter/writer. He has covered 3 Super Bowls, the NBA Finals, 1998 World Cup in France and many more sporting events.

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