WGC Accenture Match Play semi-finals: Cink has got to forget he'splaying Tiger
Some research published recently showed that when Tiger Woods is in a competition other players perform worse than when he is not. The suggestion is that his mere presence sows the seeds of failure in their minds. Someone who might have a thought about that is Stewart Cink. After sealing his final date with the world’s number one, he must surely have cast his mind back two years to their last bruising putter-to-putter encounter.
Who can forget the Bridgestone Invitational of 2006, the one Tiger won after lobbing a ball over the clubhouse roof, after his worst run of straight bogeys in 10 years, after losing a three-shot lead over the last three holes, but most crucially after watching Cink slide three victory putts by on their three playoff holes. Admittedly the first two were from around the 20ft mark, but the third was an 8-footer. Cink’s comment afterwards? “I didn’t convert, and he did.”
I cast my mind back to that encounter when Aaron Baddeley did a similar thing against Tiger in round three, missing those two winning putts on the 18th and 19th holes. Chris Baldwin’s thoughtful piece about Tiger puts his success firmly down to putting. It’s a fair point, but there’s two sides to it. As Cink and Baddeley have shown, it’s not just Tiger’s ability to sink those vital putts that wins matches, it’s his opponents’ inability to do the same before he gets the chance. I just wonder whether there isn’t really a tiny voice in a corner of their minds going “It’s Tiger, you aren’t going to make it.”
That, as much as anything, is what Cink has to beat Sunday, because as he proved at Bridgestone he has the game to take Woods on. Their stats are surprisingly similar and Cink is also the equal of Tiger on his record this week - their birdie count is almost the same, although Cink has played seven fewer rounds.
One problem for Cink is his love of coming out guns blazing in the hope of smothering his opponent before the turn for home. That is not so easy in a 36-hole match, especially when your opponent is Mr Woods. But his task is not half so forlorn as the huge gap in the betting suggests - he’s just got to get the Woods factor out of his brain and make those vital putts. Perhaps he should try to pretend he’s playing someone else.
And in Mexico: Your guess is as good as mine. To their credit the PGA Tour website did have a stab at stats this year, but they are all over the place, some players with none at all, others with rounds missing. The distance figures looked a bit dubious as well.
Five shots is a pretty handy gap for Brian Gay to take into the final round. We’ve seen far greater players than he throw away bigger leads on a Sunday, but then there were far greater players waiting in the wings to take over, and experience suggests Steve Marino and Matt Kuchar will struggle to match Saturday’s sizzling rounds of 6 under.
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