I went on record a few years ago in support of Rory Sabbatini, who was so annoyed and frustrated with the tortoise pace of his playing partner Ben Crane that he simply played the rest of the 17th hole at the Booz Allen ahead of Crane, ignoring all golf protocol. It was like Jim Morrison on Ed Sullivan. OK not really, but you get my point. In any case, I was all for Sabbatini.
Sabbatini speaks his mind. He moves briskly about the course, perhaps a nervous tempo. If cigarettes were the gum that he chomps on he’d be a chain smoker. I suspect it’s not nerves but a way of transferring his considerable competitive energy, of calming down enough to keep an intense temperament at bay just enough to ply his trade. And he’s plying it very well, especially in the last two years.
So I didn’t even have a problem with his words about Tiger leading up to The Players last week. Others have talked about a beatable Tiger and haven’t come close. Remember when Sergio Garcia said many years ago that his goal was to lead the money lists of the European Tour and the PGA Tour (which would have meant that he would have had to supplant Tiger)? At the time that was met with an almost universal, Whatever. Stephen Ames made a comment about Tiger’s erratic driving a couple years ago then was slaughtered by the world’s No. 1 in match play. There’s nothing wrong with competitive juice but none of these guys can back it up. Mickelson commented on Tiger’s inferior equipment a few years back, a less direct kind of gauntlet laid, and despite Lefty’s win at TPC and a few recent majors he’s not mounted a serious charge in toppling Tiger.
The only golfer in the reign of Tiger to overtake him as world No. 1 has been Vijay Singh, back in 2004. It took a Tiger-like year to do it. Can Adam Scott do it? Maybe. Mickelson? Who knows? But what we have here is a situation in which generally golf’s civil version of trash talking directed at Tiger usually results in Tiger waving at his would-be conquerors from the other planet he occupies.
Sabbatini could do it, and unlike others he may have the best chance. But when I heard about his Tiger-directed comments I thought again about Luke Donald’s decision to wear a red shirt in the final round of the PGA Championship last year. The passive approach, the suggestive approach, not exactly Joe Namath. And Donald was made a fool of inside of three holes that Sunday.
Is it so bad to say, Wow, I’m playing this game in the era of the best player in the world who is on the fast track to being the best of all time. Why not go about your business, as Singh did, try to win every tournament, focus on the tournaments themselves and not the rankings, and see how you stack up? Winning any tournament in which Tiger is entered, during his reign of unparalleled supremacy, of intense focus and competition, of artistry and a flair for the dramatic … isn’t it enough to say I won a tournament Tiger played in back in what will be called The Tiger Years? I guess not. I understand the competitive desire and the urge for overthrow. It just so rarely happens that golfers would be wise to worry about their own games.
All manner of styles have won and played well at TPC Sugarloaf outside Atlanta, site of this week’s AT&T Classic. Long hitters, iron maestros, putters lovers. Stewart Cink calls it his home course and has done very well but hasn’t won. He’s a bit of this and that as a player, pretty consistently good when he’s not yippy on the greens. The course is expected to be faster this year, like TPC was, given its later date on the schedule.