I think Nick O’Hern did the impossible this last weekend: He got inside Tiger’s head.
As everyone in the free world surely knows by now Nick O’Hern beat Tiger Woods in a match play event for second time (O’Hern topped Tiger two years ago at La Costa) at the World Match Play Championships. Tiger was down early in the match, but fought his way back to take it to extra holes. And then he missed a four footer.
Afterwards, everyone was talking about the putt. Tiger, in a state of denial, seemed in his press conference to be saying that he hadn’t really missed the putt; that an untended ball mark had marred his otherwise perfect stroke and line.
But for me, that wasn’t the story at all. The story was that for perhaps the first time, someone had gotten into Tiger’s head rather than the other way around.
I—and probably everyone else—could tell that Tiger was going to lose early in the match. O’Hern never trailed a hole, and Tiger was struggling to keep it close. The striped one was wild, playing as much from the cacti as from the fairway. To me, that was a sign that he was pushing too hard; thinking too much.
The sad thing was that he didn’t have to. Granted, O’Hern is ranked sixteenth in the world, but he’s not really in Tiger’s league. O’Hern is 137th in driving distance; 176 in driving accuracy; 191 in greens in regulation. He’s a dangerous putter (2nd in putts per round), but that’s about it.
I think that the advantage that O’Hern had was that he had beaten Tiger before … and Tiger was thinking about it. Simply put, O’Hern was in Tiger’s head.
The best case for that comes in Tiger’s own words:
“It’s not the streak,” Woods said. “It’s the fact that I’m disappointed I didn’t pay attention to detail, something so simple. Something so simple like that just escaped me.”
That “something so simple” was fixing the ball mark. He simply forgot. When he stepped up to that final putt, Tiger was thinking about putting away the pesky Australian, and not paying attention to details. There was something else on his mind … and that was O’Hern.
Its good to see that Tiger is not superman.
I am, however, a bit disappointed that Tiger didn’t win. I am dreading all the second-guessing about whether a match play event really counts on Tiger’s win streak. It would have been far better for him not to have finished first in a regular event. Then we could have put it to rest once and for all.