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The Mind of the Tiger

Tiger Woods is a one-man dynasty in the making, but it's not just his golf skills that awe his opponents, it's his mental approach to the game.
Jeff Williams
Posted: June 27, 2008

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Nicklaus has his own take on Tiger's mind, and his own. "I think I really did much the same as Tiger does," says Nicklaus. "All I did was try to play what I thought was the right way to play the golf course. It really didn't make any difference what the other player or players did. I think Tiger does the same thing. He plays the golf course the way he thinks he can or should play it. I don't think my mind beat them. I think maybe because I was consistent and he's consistent that everybody else has a tendency to beat themselves with their own minds. All I tried to do was not beat myself."

The Mind of the Tiger has been strong through situations that are outside the ropes, not the least of which was the death of his father in 2006. Woods has learned to cope with intense media coverage that began when he won his first U.S. Junior Amateur and snowballed exponentially when he scored his first, overwhelming Masters victory. He also was able to overcome the dark shadow of the NCAA during his time at Stanford, where he won an NCAA title before leaving after his sophomore year. At least part of his reason for leaving was the NCAA's constant scrutiny into his affairs.

His freshman year he went to Napa, California, to have dinner with Arnold Palmer, whom he had met when he won a Junior Amateur at Palmer's Bay Hill Golf Club. Palmer paid for the dinner, which became the subject of a newspaper story that eventually got back to Stanford coach Wally Goodwin, who felt he needed to inform the NCAA about it and decided to suspend Woods from the team until he got word from on high. Woods was supposed to play in a tournament in El Paso, Texas, and Stanford sent him there before a decision was made on his eligibility. He was left to stew by himself in El Paso and eventually was told by reporters at the tournament, not a Stanford official, that it was OK to play. He ended up winning the tournament.

Jim Furyk has paired well with Woods in team competitions and has gained an understanding of the Mind of the Tiger. He knows that Woods's standard of play has set the bar for this generation of players, and likely for generations to come, just as Nicklaus did in his day. "Playing with Tiger, who is fit and who is committed, is very inspiring," says Furyk. "If you watch how he goes about his business, it's not a surprise he is so successful. He's prepared. He knows what to work on, how many tournaments he has to play to have his game sharp, and he knows how to keep his mind sharp. It's the combination we all strive for."

It may sound simplistic, but Tiger Woods wins because he thinks he can. Of his come-from-behind victory over Holmes in the Match Play, Woods said, "I just kept saying I could win in regulation. That's what I've always done, even if I'm two down with three to play. I've been in that situation a lot of times. I always say I can win in regulation. It doesn't mean that you do, but you have to believe that you can."

No matter the challenge, Tiger Woods has always believed that he can. With the Mind of a Tiger, anything is possible. For years to come, every golf lover will be witness to the fact that the possible is likely to produce the greatest record ever in the game.

Jeff Williams is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.


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