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Saturday, March 10, 2018

What Must the Young Guns Be Thinking Now?

I just want to put some perspective on what we're seeing at Valspar this week. We seem to be missing the full picture because we're forgetting some important things.

Tiger at Valspar

For example, since Phil has been mentioned many times because of his win in Mexico, we need to remember that Phil isn't just overcoming the effects of age. Phil still has psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis and, although he is using medicine, both are incurable. My understanding is that he can still have flare-ups, even with treatment. So some of Phil's inconsistency could be the result of occasional pain.

Rory, Jordan and Henrik all missed the cut this week but this isn't just a matter of being in a slump. It's true that Jordan's coach Cameron McCormick said Jordan is just trying too hard right now, but we should also remember that Jordan that had a case of mono in December and -- I can say this from experience -- you feel rundown for quite a while, even after you're pronounced "well." I suspect some bad habits from that recovery time have worked their way into his game and it's a simple matter of working them out.

As for Rory and Henrik, both dealt with rib problems late last year and, even though both played well in their ET starts, conditions here in America are different from those in the Middle East. (Henrik didn't play as well in Malaysia either, his last ET event before coming here.) It's going to take some time to adjust to Bermuda grass, and that's why they're here early -- to get ready for Augusta.

Tiger, meanwhile, is playing the Honda and Valspar on the grass he's been practicing on since he started swinging again. You may have heard him say that he didn't know how he'd do at Bay Hill next week because he hasn't putted on bent grass in a while. But he's improving a little each week, and has realized that patience is his friend right now.

What exactly does all this mean to the young guns, who have made no secret that they'd like to face the "old" Tiger (and presumably the "old" Phil as well)?

Even though I expected Tiger to return to form if he was healthy, I didn't expect him to be at this point until much later this year. And while Tiger is playing well on these tough courses, he's certainly not ready for the shootouts he used to win with regularity. I suspect Tiger will be in pretty good form for Augusta -- as will Phil -- simply because both men tend to play well there, no matter what their games look like elsewhere.

But despite everything I've just written, I think the young guns should be a bit nervous -- not terrified, just nervous. JT ran the tables last weekend in Mexico but he still couldn't stop Phil from winning, and a confident Phil is a dangerous Phil. He now KNOWS that what he's been working on has him back in form, and he has Tiger to push him once again. Those two are already talking about inspiring each other, and these youngsters don't know how powerful their rivalry can be as they reassert themselves.

As for Jordan... the fact is this: An admittedly less-than-recovered Tiger just blitzed you by nine strokes on a course he hadn't seen in 22 years, when just nine months ago he wasn't even sure he'd play again. No matter the reason for your struggles, you can't feel good about this. The same goes for Rory -- under no circumstances should someone who spent a couple of years recovering from back surgery beat you by that many strokes.

Rex Hoggard noted that, after Tiger made a great play on Friday, Henrik glanced over at him and raised an eyebrow as if to say "I've seen this before." I can imagine Jordan feeling the electricity in the air and asking Henrik if it was this bad before, only to have Henrik smile and say, "No. It was worse."

Reportedly, Martin Kaymer recently asked Adam Scott at dinner if Tiger had really been that good... to which Adam simply laughed.

I don't expect Tiger to win this weekend, and I don't expect current leader Corey Conners to win either, although I expect both to hold their games together and finish well. This week will be a confidence builder for both players, but I suspect there's just too much talent too close to the lead for them to overcome it. This week, that is.

But Tiger and Phil are clearly sending this young group of superstars a message, and that message is:
We've been sharing our knowledge with you, trying to help you grow and become the players of tomorrow... but now we intend to teach you WHY we know these things. Now the hard lessons begin.
This isn't about intimidation, folks. I don't think Tiger or Phil gives a damn whether the kids are intimidated or not. Because, you see, you don't have to be intimidated to get beaten black and blue by our game.

And I think the young guns are just beginning to suspect that their dream of facing the legends wasn't a particularly smart one.

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