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December 06, 2001

What it takes to tame Tiger
By Dan Patrick

There has been a lot of talk lately about how Tiger Woods is the most focused athlete in sports today. His concentration is boundless. You see shots of his grim face on the tee or the green and, yes, you do see a driven, determined golfer. But you'd expect that, wouldn't you? We expect him to be locked in while playing. I recently got a chance, however, to see just how focused Tiger can be during an "off" week.

Tiger Woods
Everything about Tiger Woods is intense.

I was in Las Vegas over the past weekend and went out to the Rio Sacco golf course, home of Butch Harmon's golf school. I went to say hello to Butch, but when I got there he was working with a client. Tiger Woods.

Tiger was hitting balls off the putting green. He was worried his divots were getting a little too deep. So he's hitting balls off the practice green to get an idea of exactly how deep those divots were. It was as if he was peeling off the layers of an onion as each divot flew away and he studied the patch of grass it used to be. He was down to fractions of inches as he fine-tuned his game. By the time I got there, he was hitting these thin little sleeves you could have turned over with a spatula, let alone a pitching wedge.

Here's a guy who's won four majors in a row and he's still not satisfied. I'm sure his Palm Pilot calendar for that day said: "Work on divot depth."

This was the famed Woods focus on display. But not really. He was working alone on his game with his coach. No cameras, no crowd. All business. Butch was all business, too, watching and offering advice from his director's chair perch.

As I watched Tiger hitting a 4-iron off the putting green, I realized I was getting a rare look into just how devoted he is. How persnickety his pursuit of perfection is. Of all sports, golf is the one in which you never find perfection, ever. The room for error in golf is so great -- yet he's still searching for perfection. Today it was divot depth. Tomorrow, what? The effect of rain on 7-irons on Fridays?

One thing I mentioned to Butch is how Tiger doesn't bring out the best in other golfers. We've seen it on rare occasions when Hal Sutton or Thomas Bjorn steps up, looks into the eye of the Tiger and doesn't wilt. But that doesn't happen often. Paul Azinger was matched with Tiger at the Memorial two weeks ago. While walking up the 17th fairway, 'Zinger apologized to Tiger, saying, "I'm sorry I couldn't have been a better opponent."

Butch responded that Tiger brings out the worst in his opponents, because they hit shots they wouldn't normally hit. Panic? Maybe. But he has such a huge advantage going in. He can get into their heads. Golfers are in their own heads enough, which is why they can be their own worst enemy.

So when they mention again this weekend how focused Tiger is, I won't need to see the accompanying videotape. I'll have the image from last weekend of Tiger working so hard, hitting those 4-irons off the putting green.

Because his divots were getting too deep.

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