Originally Published: February 13, 2011

Tiger Woods' demise greatly exaggerated

Sobel By Jason Sobel
ESPN.com
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"What an incredible Cinderella story, this unknown comes out of nowhere to lead the pack ..."

Those, of course, are the famous words of Carl Spackler, as played by Bill Murray in the golf epic "Caddyshack." You and your golfing buddies aren't the only ones who know those words verbatim, either.

"It's my favorite movie hands down," said D.A. Points, Murray's partner at Pebble Beach this week. "It was a challenge to not recite lines, because obviously he hears it everywhere he goes. But he did give us a couple of nice ones."

None were nicer than those about the Cinderella story. More than three decades after the film was produced, they rang truer than ever, as Murray teamed with Points to claim the pro-am portion of the proceedings.

While the Weekly 18 will delve into all things Spackler -- er, Murray -- let's first start with a guy who once played him in a television commercial. It was hardly a Cinderella story for Tiger Woods this week, but the good news is, we shouldn't read too much into how he fared.

So he's got that going for him ... which is nice.

1. The Waiting Game

Golf is a game of patience. Think about it: The actual combined time to hit every shot in a round might not surpass more than a minute or two. But of course, the game isn't played that way. There's the walking ... and the strategizing ... and the waiting ... and the waiting ... and the waiting ...

And yet, when it comes to proffering opinions on some of the game's biggest stars, it appears patience is a virtue of the past and waiting is a game played by very few.

In what has become a recurring theme in his past few tournaments, Tiger Woods displayed stretches of both terrific golf this past week in Dubai and extremely poor golf. There was a heaping portion of the latter on Sunday, when he posted a 3-over 75 to drop from one stroke off the lead through 54 holes to a share of 20th place when it was over.

Is this a red flag that his game isn't where it needs to be? Yes. Does it insinuate that his swing, short game and confidence level all need some major improvements in the very near future? Absolutely. Does it portend greater struggles for him over the long term? No way.

Certainly the guy is going through a rough patch with his game right now, but it's hardly a determinant of his impending future.

I feel like I'm in the minority, though. In the Age of Twitter, our need-it-now society often celebrates success or decries failure well before the journey has been completed. In the case of Woods, it seems like when he hits a solid shot, he's "back;" when he misses poorly, he's "done." No longer is the wait-and-see approach proper strategy, since opinions can change at a moment's notice anyway.

It doesn't help that most have selective memory when it comes to Tiger. His dominance is often recalled, but let's remember: He never won every event, never even won more than he lost. Yes, he prevailed by 15 strokes at the 2000 U.S. Open and 8 one month later at the Open Championship. If your contention is that he will never again be the same player who triumphed by so many at Pebble Beach and St. Andrews, you're right. That said, there's a great chance that nobody will ever dominate in that manner, so making such a proclamation isn't exactly going out on the weakest limb.

Those who claim he will never win a major championship would be wise to remember that Jack Nicklaus remained stuck on 14 for nearly three full years before eventually adding four more titles to reach his now-legendary total of 18.

It's not just Woods, though. Following weekend scores of 75-74 after claiming an early lead, Rory McIlroy has dissenters, too. While I'll be the first to point out that his two career victories came from way in front and way behind and that he's struggled to prove he can close, I'll also be the first to contend that at 21 years old it would be ignorant to make any gross presumptions about his future status as a winner based solely on recent history.

And then there's Sergio Garcia. Golf fans' favorite whipping boy surprisingly climbed the leaderboard in Dubai, only to unsurprisingly falter, posting a 3-over 75 while paired with Woods in the final round. Though he hasn't won a title anywhere since 2008, it's easy to forget that this is a player who won 18 times worldwide before turning 30. I maintain that his recent performance is more an indication of upcoming resurgence than prolonged indifference, but I'm willing to show a little patience and wait to see the end of this story.

These things go both ways, too. If you're attempting to project the end of the Tiger era, dispel overinflated opinions of Rory and predict the continued downward spiral of Sergio based on the weekend in Dubai, you must also praise winner Alvaro Quiros as the next elite player, runners-up James Kingston and Anders Hansen as dogged competitors and weekend mover Alvaro Velasco as a brilliant up-and-coming talent.

While those assessments might not be completely invalid, it would be unwise to make such rash declarations after one tournament, just as it is unwise to downgrade Woods, McIlroy and Garcia based solely on their imperfect results.

Golf is cyclical in nature. The best players understand how to ride the highs and limit the lows, ensuring more top performances than their fellow competitors. Every player endures those lows, though, whether it means for an uncharacteristically prolonged period like Woods, quixotically only in final rounds like McIlroy or even seemingly for years like Garcia.

There's recent precedence here, too. World No. 1 Lee Westwood and fellow top-10 player Steve Stricker both had extended stretches during their careers when they simply couldn't compete at the level necessary to be an elite golfer. At those times, each was probably considered "done" by many observers, but those who practiced patience have witnessed the value of such an exercise.

Feel free to give up on Woods now, contending he'll never be a top-flight player again. Call McIlroy simply a final-round flake and Garcia a coulda-been who became a never-was. You might be proven right someday. Or maybe -- just maybe -- those who wait for good things to come from this trio will be rewarded for such diligence in due time.

Three up

2. D.A. Points and Bill Murray

I've never written the following sentence before, so indulge me for a minute here: Bill Murray won at Pebble Beach on Sunday.

[+] Enlarge
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesD.A. Points, left, stands in front of the winner's trophy as pro-am partner Bill Murray watches nearby after winning his first pro-am title at Pebble Beach.

See, it just looks weird. Like it's waiting for a punch line about a different Bill Murray or some movie scene.

But, no. The real Bill Murray is now a real winner of the famed Clambake, teaming with individual champion Points to claim his first career title.

I spoke with Murray shortly after the victory and while the funnyman did throw in a few yuks, what really struck me was how humbled he was by winning the tournament.

"It's kind of dreamy," the 12-handicap told me. "Even though it's not like I made the putt to win, I was certainly the part of it. I was just sort of carried along in the wake of it.

"It's one of the few things I ever really wanted. I really wanted this. I haven't won at much else."

You could say the same thing for Points. Despite four career Nationwide Tour wins and two consecutive seasons in the top 100 on the money list in the big leagues, he had never before finished better than third place. With Murray in tow, he posted scores of 63-70-71 on the rotation of courses before a final-round 5-under 67 vaulted him to a two-shot victory over Hunter Mahan.

"It's been pretty much one of the most amazing weeks of my life," Points told me afterward. "[Murray] invites me to play at Cypress on Wednesday, which we did right until sunset -- it was amazing. Thursday was my daughter's first birthday and I had a good opening round. And then to finish it all with a win on Sunday? It's just been an amazing week."

The fact Points also won the individual title made the team victory all the sweeter for Murray, too.

"That's everything," he said. "I think that certainly makes the celebration even-handed. If I had won and he came in second, he'd probably go home early. Now we can look each other in the eyes and be fine."

3. Yani Tseng

I spoke with Tseng in early December -- just a little more than two months ago -- and at one point in our conversation, the subject of becoming No. 1 in the world was broached.

Then ranked fifth on the heels of a season in which she was named LPGA Player of the Year thanks to two major victories, she discussed the difficulty of such an ascendance.

"I think it's going to be hard at the beginning of next year," Tseng said. "Everyone is still working so hard for this. I feel like it's going to change a little bit."

Well, she was half right.

Even though the LPGA season has yet to debut, there has already been a change atop the Rolex Rankings. And while it might not have been easy, it sure didn't look hard for Tseng, who claimed back-to-back titles over the past two weeks to pass Jiyai Shin for the honor.

"It is so soon," Tseng said after winning the ANZ RACV Ladies Masters on Sunday. "I wasn't expecting it as quickly as this. I still have another 10 months to go. I just need to be very patient and keep working hard. I still have a lot of things to learn, too."

Now that she's No. 1, don't expect Tseng to relinquish the title anytime soon. In that conversation we had in December, I asked whether it's beneficial for women's golf to have a rotating door of top-ranked players or just one who solidified that position and remained there for a while.

"I don't know," she said with a laugh.

Then she got serious.

"If I can hold it for a long time, I think that would be a good thing."

If that's the case, good things may now be coming.

4. Ted Potter Jr.

While his name might not ring a bell to most golf fans, mention Potter to those in golf's inner circle and they'll likely recall his series of ups and downs while bouncing between golf's version of the Double-A and Triple-A levels.

Here's the abridged story: He eschewed college and turned pro at 19; in 2003, earned his Nationwide Tour card through Q-school at 20; in 2004, missed the cut in all 24 starts on the developmental circuit; in 2005, earned player of the year honors on the Hooters Tour; in 2006, again claimed Nationwide playing privileges through Q-school; in 2007, made only three cuts in 20 starts on that tour; in 2009, again won the Hooters POY award; and in 2010, played a limited Nationwide schedule, making just three cuts in 11 starts.

It's almost like he's in golf purgatory. Too good for Double-A ball, not good enough for Triple-A.

What's more likely, though, is that he just needed a little more seasoning on the mini-tours.

Playing again on the Hooters circuit, Potter has captured two straight titles -- the most recent coming on Thursday, when the burly left-hander birdied the final two holes to force a playoff, then sank an 18-foot eagle putt on the first extra hole to claim the victory.

"I've been practicing a lot and trying to get ready," Potter told me afterward. "It's finally starting to come around and it's getting better. The putting is the biggest thing. It's been holding me back, but it's getting better."

Another thing helping Potter -- believe it or not -- is his past. He decided to forgo college because, "I didn't want to do that; I just wanted to play professional golf," and while the short-term results were cringe-worthy, he believes the experience has helped him gain perspective as a player.

"There was a lot of stuff I had to learn," he said. "That first year was rough on me, but I got some good experience. When you have a rough patch, you try to learn from it and build from it. I don't regret what happened. You're going to have good days and bad days. I think it helped my game in the long run."

Three down

5. Robert Garrigus

Six weeks ago, he was the de facto darling of the season opener.

Even though Garrigus lost to Jonathan Byrd in a playoff at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, the big hitter performed well during the week, displaying his enviable talents throughout Kapalua.

On Sunday, just five shots off the AT&T lead going into the final round, he was forced to withdraw -- and it wasn't because of some nagging injury.

No, it was much scarier than that. Garrigus withdrew due to a bout with high blood pressure.

The good news, though, is that later in the day he relayed the information that he was doing much better.

"Well I feel fine now but I defiantly [sic] was in no shape to play golf this morning but I should be good for la thanks for all the well wishes!" he tweeted.

Garrigus, who was ninth on the money list entering the week, will receive last-place earnings.

6. Theft at Spyglass

Strange but true story relayed to me by PGA Tour veteran Kris Blanks this week.

Prior to his opening round at Spyglass, Blanks used the facilities in the locker room, but a few minutes later realized he had left his cellular phone inside. Already warming up on the driving range, he sent his caddie, A.J. Eathorne, inside for the phone -- only to find out it was gone.

So before they teed off, Blanks and Eathorne went to the pro shop to report the missing phone. It was then that the story really got strange.

Blanks had the idea for his caddie to call the phone. When she did, he heard his ringtone -- the Jamie Foxx anthem "Winner," featuring Justin Timberlake and T.I., if you must know -- playing in the front of the shop. When he realized it was emanating from a security guard, he questioned whether the employee had the phone.

The security guard assured him that he simply had the same ringtone. So Blanks had Eathorne call the phone again -- and again it started ringing. It was then that the man fessed up, pulling the purloined phone from his sock and handing it over to the pro.

That's some pretty good sleuthing by Blanks, putting the "spy" in Spyglass before posting a first-round 2-under 70 on the course.

7. Jamie Lovemark

Following his opening-round 81 on Monterey Peninsula Country Club, the rookie withdrew from the remainder of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am.

It didn't take long to find out why.

He tweeted: "Hate to WD from AT&T and Northern Trust next week but my back is not in a good place..disc issues since October. Needs to get reevaluated."

That's bad news for a guy who had a 58th-place finish and three missed cuts in four starts prior to Pebble. Back injuries are nothing to sneeze at -- in fact, with disc issues he might not want to sneeze at all -- but they can be especially problematic for a tall, athletic 23-year-old with a seemingly very bright future.

But there's good news, too. As last year's leading money-winner on the Nationwide Tour, Lovemark is exempt from all in-season reshuffles. That means a lingering injury is less painful -- figuratively, at least -- to him than it would be to any other rookie, as he won't have as much trouble getting into events when he's ready to tee it up once again.

Three wishes

8. I wish the Challenge Tour schedule made sense.

So, you think the LPGA has some inconsistencies in its schedule with so many bye weeks? Check out the Challenge Tour.

I randomly clicked on the 2011 schedule for the European Tour's developmental circuit -- its equivalent of the Nationwide Tour -- this week and found the strangest start to the season I've ever seen.

The tour's campaign began with the Gujarat Kensville Challenge from Jan. 13-16, won by Gaganjeet (Ferris) Bhullar. However, it is now in the midst of a seven -- yes, seven! -- week dark period before the second tournament of the season.

Momentum, anyone? Bhullar? Bhullar? Bhullar?

Hey, on the bright side, at least the extended break gives players plenty of time to travel from India to Colombia, site of its next tourney.

But that's not the only foreseeable issue with the Challenge Tour schedule. Its penultimate event -- just prior to the Challenge Tour Grand Final in early November -- happens to be the Egyptian Open, slated for Oct. 19-22 at a yet-to-be-decided venue.

This event made headlines last year for its inclusion of Rory McIlroy in the field, as he dropped a level to play by the pyramids, somehow only finishing in a share of 12th place.

This year, though, it could make news of a different nature -- if it ever goes off as planned. Even with president Hosni Mubarak stepping down recently, considering the current state of civil unrest in the country, it can't be likely that a professional golf tournament will be contested, especially if the tour cares about the well being of its constituency.

And if it doesn't, well, that probably just means another bye week for the Challenge Tour membership. They should be used to it by then.

9. I wish it made sense for Lee Westwood to be awarded Honorary Life Membership on the European Tour.

The game's No. 1-ranked player received the award last Tuesday in Dubai. OK, so that takes care of the who, what, when and where, but I still have one more question.

Why?

It's not as if Westwood was in danger of losing his status soon and the Euro Tour swooped in and saved him the embarrassment of registering for Q-school. Instead, the honor is, well, "honorary" -- just as the title states. It carries no extra playing privileges and doesn't mean that a player can tee it up at sanctioned events in perpetuity.

In the past, it's almost exclusively gone to members who have won majors or players who are no longer in their primes. Case in point: Last year, four players received this upgrade; 2010 major champions Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer, plus five-time Open Championship winner Tom Watson.

So why bestow the award upon Westwood now? Euro Tour chief executive George O'Grady suggested that the honor came from Westwood's loyalty toward the Euro circuit for so many years.

In other words: Lee, thanks for not chasing the big bucks in America once you became No. 1 in the world. In return, here's a grandiose gesture in your honor!

Much like the Euro Tour, the PGA Tour has a lifetime membership designation, too. Rather than voted on by a committee, however, it is simply bestowed upon players who have won 20 career titles.

I'm not saying one method is better than the other. Just that it seems awfully coincidental that Westwood's surge to the top of the ranking and defiance of the U.S. tour were so closely followed by his newfound honorary membership.

10. I wish there was an easy solution to phoned-in rules violations.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem announced this week that he would not put an end to television viewers being able to phone in rules violations. Based on his track record, the only surprise here is that he hasn't yet gotten these calls sponsored by AT&T.

Even if he wanted to, abolishing the phone-a-fiends remains a slippery slope. Look at it this way: If TV viewers can't point out violations, then what about on-course ticket-holders? Or marshals? Journalists? Official scorers? Caddies?

At the heart of the issue has always been making the correct call -- no pun intended -- when a player doesn't realize his own infraction. Officials and competitors alike have always maintained that being right is more important than how the process came about.

There's been a groundswell of support lately for the idea that I've often stated here in the W18; namely, if a player is found to have committed a rules violation after signing the scorecard, the proper penalty would be assessed rather than a disqualification.

For those who don't see the value of phoned-in corrections, your viewpoint isn't incorrect. Finding an alternative solution, though, is easier talked about than implemented.

11. Stat of the week

Suzann Pettersen is coming off a no-win, six runner-up season.

Depending on how you look at it, last year was either wildly frustrating for Pettersen or consistently satisfying. OK, maybe a little of both.

This week, she "defends" one of those runner-up finishes at the season-opening Honda LPGA Thailand, where last year she was lapped in the final round by Ai Miyazato, who carded a 63 to clinch a come-from-behind win.

In fact, that became a recurring theme for Pettersen: Get into contention, play well in the final round, but still lose to one other player.

Check out the chart to the left. In these half-dozen instances -- two of which she led entering the final round; four others she trailed -- Pettersen posted a scoring average of 68.33, never shooting a score higher than 70.

Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.

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