Tiger's Shot at Slam Hits Rough at Masters

Speculation that Tiger Woods could capture golf's Grand Slam by winning all four major tournaments this year appears premature. At the Masters Tournament, Woods is well off the pace on Friday. Wall Street Journal sportswriter Stefan Fatsis discusses the challenges Woods faces on the course.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

Tiger Woods teed off today in the second round of the Masters in Augusta, Georgia. At that time he trailed leader Trevor Immelman of South Africa by eight strokes, now he's seven strokes back and he's playing the last hole of today's round. Woods is hoping to become the first golfer since Bobby Jones back in 1930 to capture the Grand Slam, that means winning all four of the year's major tournaments.

I talk about the world's best golfer and one of its most revered tournaments today with sports writer Stefan Fatsis of The Wall Street Journal. I asked Stefan about something Tiger Woods said on his Web site before the tournament. Woods said that capturing the Grand Slam is, quote, "easily within reason." And Fatsis says, that comment generated lots of attention.

Mr. STEFAN FATSIS (Sports Writer, Wall Street Journal): And the reaction to that was almost silly to me because empirically, yeah, it's easily within reason, Tiger is modern, he's analytical, he's unvarnished about his abilities. And why should we doubt him? He's won five straight PGA Tour events, 10 out of 20 since the start of 2007 and five of the last 12 major tournaments - the Masters, U.S. Open, British Open, and PGA championship. He's dominated a sport that includes so many competitors every week, it requires so many repetitions of incredibly precise athletic actions to win, so many variables like winds and divots and air and twigs or blades of grass.

Now, the probability is he's not going to win the Grand Slam, of course, and he obviously has a lot - a long way to go this weekend to start on that road. But as one anonymous tour pro told Sports Illustrated before the tournament, Tiger is beating us like we were five-year-olds swinging toy clubs.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIEGEL: But it is golf, as you say, with very wide variances from shot-to-shot and tournament-to-tournament. If you look at Tiger Woods' record at the Masters, he actually hasn't done as well since winning back-to-back Green Jackets in 2001 and 2002.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, only won one championship since then, which for him is not a lot. And that's partly because the people that run Augusta National made the course 500 yards longer since then, some people have called it Tiger-proofing. Tiger noted after practice on Tuesday that the Masters is more like a U.S. Open now, it's longer, narrower, thicker, rough. As Tom Boswell, the columnist in the Washington Post said today, Tiger did not mean that as a compliment…

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: …you know, he don't like the way the course has changed.

SIEGEL: But he seems to have a hidden advantage beyond his own extraordinary ability. Other golfers, it is said, play worse when he is in the field. This is according to research from the University of California-Berkeley no less.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, there was a study done by a Ph.D. candidate in agricultural and resource economics named Jen Brown. She looked at round-by-round scores for every player on every PGA tournament from 1996 to 2006, and she looked at hole-by-hole data from 2002 to 2006. And what she found was that PGA Tour golfers scored one stroke higher in tournaments in which Tiger played compared to their scores when Tiger wasn't in the field. And she also found what she calls the adverse superstar effect is even greater when Tiger is on a roll - doing really well - and it disappears when his slumping. So I guess players got some confidence when Tiger's in trouble.

SIEGEL: And for the non-golfers, a higher score obviously is worse in golf?

Mr. FATSIS: Right.

SIEGEL: Enough about Tiger Woods. A difference at the Masters, for most of the people who are seeing it is, for the first two days at least, the arrival of ESPN, which is showing the first two rounds of the tournament.

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, and they're doing it very, very respectfully. There are no announcers screaming, boo yeah, on the 18th grain.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: There's no catch phrases.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. FATSIS: You know, no screen crawls with scores and news. It's all…

SIEGEL: (Unintelligible), none of that, huh?

Mr. FATSIS: Yeah, none of that. It's just the azaleas and magnolias and hushed tones. ESPN has to tread very carefully here and respect Augusta National's desire for reverence and decorum it's always built into the contract. You got to bear in mind that ESPN's coverage is being produced by CBS with CBS announcers handling the live play-by-play. CBS has broadcast the Masters since 1955, they're the only network to have ever done it. And it's kept the job because it abided by the tournament's demands to limit the amount of airtime compared to other events and have announcers tread very, very lightly.

SIEGEL: Now, a couple of other changes, this aimed at increasing inclusion in golf but not the admission of women as members. This was, of course, the subject of big debate a few years ago.

Mr. FATSIS: Right. The club chairman, Billy Payne, this week, didn't mention the issue of women becoming members of the club. He said, as always, he won't talk about the club's private policies, but he did use the word inclusion to apply to bringing in more competitors from international countries, from other countries, and for letting kids - they're encouraging kids to play golf. They're letting kids in this week free with ticket holders.

SIEGEL: Thank you, Stefan. Have a good weekend.

Mr. FATSIS: Thank you, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis, who covers sports and the business of sports for The Wall Street Journal and for ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

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