MARANA, Ariz. - Henrik Stenson is one of those Swedes who sounds, looks and acts like he wouldn't get excited if Beyonce ran across the green in front of him naked. It's hard to imagine his blood pressure ever raising above 90/60. And that reading might only come if his plane was going down.
Still, for a few moments in the Arizona desert, Stenson came across as much of a complete, crazed whack job as one of those guys on "Cops" who always gets caught without their shirt on holding no evidence of having taken a shower in two weeks.
"That's all we can do," Stenson said, apparently referring to a 2-up loss to Tiger Woods in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship semis in which he never led. "Keep on trying, and eventually we're going to get him."
It certainly isn't going to happen at this star-studded tournament outside of Tucson. Sixty three of the other top 65 golfers in the world (and everyone below Woods in the Top 40) came to the desert knowing they only needed one of them - one of them - to beat Tiger for one round on one day ...
Well, Sunday's here and it's down to Woods and 22nd-ranked Stewart Cink.
It's enough to make you think that Cink isn't just playing to validate his second-place finish but that everyone is playing for second in all 15 tournaments or so Woods enters this year.
"We're all still coming after him," Stenson said in trying to brush away a question about any discouragement or just plain hopeless despair. "I felt like if I hit a couple of shots better, hit a couple of putts, it would have been going into extra holes. At least."
And Larry the Cable Guy feels that with a couple of script tweaks, "Delta Farce" would have been the darling of tonight's Oscars rather than "Juno."
A couple of things don't separate Tiger from the other top golfers in the world. It's one big thing that puts a chasm between himself and the field, a chasm wide enough so that Roseanne Barr, Drew Carey, Marlon Brando, Louie Anderson, Miss Piggy, Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore could all fit through it in the same line-dancing row.
On Wednesday, Tiger came back from three holes down with five to play against J.B. Holmes (still by far the most exciting match of the tournament) with one long, swerving dagger putt after another. On Friday, Tiger beat Aaron Baddeley, because Baddeley couldn't hit three putts within 11 feet to eliminate him, while he drained such a no-doubt 13 footer on the second extra hole that he took his hat off before it even dropped - to "SportsCenter's" endless delight. Yesterday, Tiger hit a 14 footer on 17 to grab the lead for good after Stenson knotted him at 16.
And on the seventh day? You can be sure he'll hit a putt - or six - to crush Cink too.
When Woods went off to take a bathroom break in the desert (with a police escort, of course) before the first extra hole in his match with Baddeley, a fan screamed out, "Tiger pees! Oh my God!"
No, where Tiger is God comes on the greens. As good as Tiger is now, it's hard to remember what a stunning transformation this is. He wasn't a great putter by any stretch when he arrived on tour. He probably didn't become truly excellent at it until around 2005. Of course, when you're hitting that chip on 16 at Augusta for Nike's stock, your putting tends to be overlooked.
Turns out you can blame Earl Woods. Again.
When Tiger first came out on the PGA Tour, he used to lose regular nine-hole putting matches to the only guy who seems to have ever measured up in Woods' world.
"Ever since I can remember, my dad was always a better putter than I was," Tiger said. "I always wanted to kick his butt. I had to bear down. Even when I was a pro, early in my pro days, we'd go out and putt nine holes, and he'd routinely whip me."
Now, years later, everyone else pays in a 2008 season that could be the greatest in sports history.
Woods still hits the unfathomable shots that everyone remembers. Including that 280-plus-yard 5-wood from the rough versus Holmes and a pitch from a ridge bunker tilted at an impossible sideways angle to set up his winning putt on 17 against Stenson.
These are the "wow" shots. The putts are the winners, though.
Tiger compared himself to Michael Jordan on Saturday, noting how MJ always wanted the shot in the end too - and most importantly wasn't afraid to miss it. It's obvious these kind of cross-sport comparisons are the only way to measure Woods now. Roger Federer might want to start picking it up again.
"I've missed my share, no doubt," Woods said of big putts. "Just like MJ missed his share of last shots. But you want to be there."
Woods is being kind to Jordan these days. Truth is, 23 never enjoyed the type of success rate Tiger has now.
But Stenson thinks they're going to get him. At least, the Swede's smart enough to put it in terms of the whole rest of the PGA Tour as a collective we. One of us has to beat him once sometime, right?
Maybe not. There have been reported sightings of a wandering mountain lion - or a few mountain lions traveling solo - around the mountain base community where Gallery Golf Club is located. It's no doubt left tournament officials a little freaked.
But Tiger? He's untouchable from Simba too.
"We're equipped to deal with that, if one was to appear," one of the Secret Service-like protectors who shadow Woods on the course said.
At first, I thought the guy was kidding. Then, he looked me in the eye.
February 24, 2008
Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.
Davis Love III, who played the final 57 holes of the Children's Miracle Network Classic without a bogey, finished at 25-under 263 in the season-ending event played at the Walt Disney World Golf Resort in Florida. It has been a long road back for Love, who severely sprained his ankle late last year. After tearing ligaments, he needed surgery, and he's spent much of this year rehabilitating the injury.
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