Golf

Tiger vs. Shark: Here we go again

Image: Tiger Woods (John O'Boyle/THE STAR-LEDGER)
Tiger Woods shot a 67 in a rainy, interrupted first round of The Barclays.
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Robert Lusetich

After more than 20 years of covering everything from election campaigns to the Olympic Games, Robert Lusetich turned his focus to writing about his first love: golf. He is author of Unplayable: An Inside Account of Tiger's Most Tumultuous Season. Follow him on Twitter.

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JERSEY CITY, N.J.

Given he’s not much of a sleeper — four or five hours a night — and doesn’t like his hotel’s soft beds, maybe Tiger Woods was up early and watching television on Thursday morning.

If so, he’d have seen Greg Norman on "CBS This Morning."

He might even have rolled his eyes.

To say the two have a strained relationship wouldn’t be accurate because two people would need to have a relationship in order for it to be strained.

These two — both confirmed headstrong alpha males — have no relationship to speak of.

The backstory isn’t very convoluted: Norman always expected to be Woods’ mentor, but Woods, who does things his way, wasn’t in the market for one.

There were other factors — Norman wasn’t happy that when he was No. 1, his coach, Butch Harmon, doted on the teenage Woods — but the point is that over the years they haven’t simply failed to mend their fences, they've put up new ones.

And so it wasn’t a surprise that the Shark repeated to CBS what he told me last September: that Woods was losing the intimidation factor he once held over his rivals.

Norman’s rationale then was that, for the first time in his career, Woods had played well in two of last year’s FedEx Cup playoff events but still lost to a sublime Rory McIlroy, who’d also won a second major by eight shots.

Woods, remember, used to win with his B game. Suddenly, he was losing with what, at the time, was something like an A game.

PGA TOUR WIN LEADERS

Collecting trophies is a habit of Tiger Woods.

Norman went down those roads again on Thursday, stopping first at the question that has all of the sports world guessing: Will Tiger eclipse Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors?

“I think the longer the time goes by with him not doing it, the harder it's going to be,” Norman said.

“The reason why: He's losing his intimidation factor.

“One of the greatest assets you can have as a great player is that intimidation, whether it's golf or on the tennis court or in basketball. And right now he's losing that edge a little bit because the younger players are beating him.

“The older he gets, the younger the younger players get.”

And while there’s truth to the fact that Father Time won’t be Tiger’s friend, it’s true, too, that Woods is right now the best player in the world.

Despite his failings at the majors, it says so in the world rankings.

And he was proving it again on an exasperatingly long, rain-interrupted opening day at The Barclays.

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“I’m actually tired,” said Woods.

He’s in excellent physical shape and rarely is made tired by golf, but this was one long day at Liberty National.

“I got up at 4 this morning,” he said. “And I think it took us, from start to finish, just under 11 hours for the day . . . long day.”

Woods, to be sure, wasn’t at his best throughout the day — he got it going with three straight birdies on his first nine before the second storm stopped play — but what’s important is that he shot a 4-under-par round of 67.

He stayed very much in touch.

“I’m only three back,” he said, referring to early leader Kevin Stadler’s 64.

It wasn’t easy, too, because his neck and back — bothering him after a bad night’s sleep on Wednesday — didn’t react well to Thursday’s stoppages.

“The back was stiff going out on the third restart,” he said.

But he kept his card clean — thanks to making several 4- and 5-footers for par — and knows he shot 67 despite failing to capitalize on opportunities.

“I didn’t play the par 5s well,” he said.

He made par at each — missing a 4-footer on one — but two of them are birdie, if not eagle, holes.

Friday, he acknowledged, would be his easy day because he’ll play only a handful of holes late in the afternoon because of the backup.

“Saturday is going to be a really long day,” he said.

“We are going to get in probably 27-plus (holes) probably is what it’s going to end up being.”

I asked him if he was up for it given the disappointment of the PGA at Oak Hill, where he let another chance at a 15th major slide by.

“We have these four playoff events, I have the Presidents Cup, I’ve got an overseas event and I have my event (World Challenge in Southern California), so I’ve got plenty of golf to play,” he said.

“It’s not that hard to get up for.”

And maybe along the way, who knows, he might regain a little of that intimidation factor.

Tagged: Tiger Woods, Greg Norman

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