El Nimnod

The Players LogoAfter his wet and wild performance on the 17th at the 2013 Players Championship Sergio Garcia should fully expect to be served a notice of copyright infringement by Kevin Costner’s lawyer for impersonating to the tee Roy McAvoy, Costner’s character in Tin Cup.

And people wonder why Sergio is not a great champion?  Simply because he is incapable of thinking like one. Like McAvoy in Tin Cup, Sergio is his own worst enemy.

The two greatest champions of the Modern Era, the Golden Bear and the Tiger, have played the major championships-all five of them-with a plan….a simple plan.  Don’t beat yourself.

Nicklaus has said on many occasions that he won more majors by letting the others lose them.  His philosophy on tough Sunday pin placements at the major championships was to play at the center of the green and try to curve it in the direction of the flag position.  If it didn’t move he had a 25-footer from the center of the green.  If it did move he might have a putt at a birdie.

Tiger on his way to 14 majors has always played the percentages.  Don’t take chances if you do not need to.  He only wins about 90% of the time if he is leading after 54 holes because he knows that if he can play aggressively the first few holes on Sunday and build a lead of 3 or 4 he can put it on autopilot-hit fairways and greens-and cruise to the trophy presentation making par after par while others crash and burn trying to catch him.

The final round in The Players was a perfect example.  Tiger played the first seven holes to get to 13-under and the lead.  He added one more birdie on 12 to get to 14-under and all of a sudden was 3 clear of the field with six holes to play.  Even after an uncharacteristic stumble on 14 when he balloon hooked what was supposed to be a stinger 3-wood into the water off the tee and made double he just drubbed the field with all pars and one more birdie coming in.

Most telling was that when he hit it in the heavy rough on 16 he found a way to muscle a long iron about 230 into the front bunker from which he knew he had a good chance to get up and down for a birdie and get back to 13-under.  He then stood on the tee at the treacherous Island 17th and aimed at the center of the green, ignoring the sucker pin hanging out over the water.    There was no way he was aiming at that pin.  Another par….one step closer to the trophy.  Splitting the fairway on 18 he took dead aim at an accessible flag to try to squeeze one more stroke out of the course.  His birdie putt edged the hole…one more par…one step closer to the trophy.

Now we have El Nimnod, one hole behind Tiger watching his every move and ignoring the example.  He too made a birdie on 16 to get it to 13-under and tie for the lead.  Standing on the tee at 17….looking at the inaccessible flag waving over Pete and Alice’s Pond….McAvoy, I mean Sergio, could not bring himself to aim at the center of the green and avoid pushing the self-destruct button.  His thought was, this hole has been good to me over the years why not put the tournament away right here.  Dunking two in a row into the water put it away alright as he headed for the 18th tee three out of the lead, handing Tiger the trophy.

The final three holes at Sawgrass have a simple algorithm, especially on Sunday.  Find a way to make a four on sixteen or you will lose a shot to the field.  Hit it left of the flag on seventeen to make sure you still have a shot to win on the last.  Split the fairway on eighteen, don’t visit the water on the left or the rough on the right and you will have a chance to go hunting for what is always an accessible flag.

What the pros say about Thursday at most events, you cannot win the event on Thursday but you can certainly lose it, applies to the 17th at Sawgrass on Sunday.  True champions understand that you cannot win the tournament on 17 in regulation but you can certainly lose it there.

After two decades on the Tour El Nimnod has still not grasped this lesson and once again proved he lacks the discipline and judgement to be a great champion.  It is apparent to me that being a great champion is something he will never grow into.

May, 2013

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