Why It's No Good to Doubt Tiger Woods Tiger Woods won the US Open for the third time — despite recent knee surgery that some columnists thought would do him in.
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Why It's No Good to Doubt Tiger Woods

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And now, after 91 holes of golf over five days, Tiger Woods did it. He won the U.S. Open for the third time. It was a dramatic victory, to say the least. From the beginning the odds were against Tiger Woods. He was recovering from recent knee surgery, and some people thought his injury might do him in. Detroit Free Press columnist Carlos Monarrez was one of them. Last week his wrote Tiger Woods has no chance of winning the US Open. Today his column was headlined "Oops! Turns Out Woods Did Have a Chance to Win." Carlos Monarrez joins us by phone from Detroit to eat his words. Welcome to the show, Carlos.

Mr. MONARREZ (Columnist, Detroit Free Press): Hi, Lynn. How are you?

NEARY: I'm good. And we also want to hear from you, the listener. Did you watch the game? And be honest, was there a point when you doubted Tiger Woods? Give us a call. Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255. Our email address is talk@npr.org. And you can comment on our blog. It's npr.org/blogofthenation. All right, Carlos. You not only said Tiger wouldn't win. You said he might not make the cutoff. What were you thinking?

Mr. MONARREZ: Well, I was foolish enough to base my reasoning on the fact that he had just had knee surgery and had not played a round the golf since the last run of the Masters in April. And in fact he had not walked 18 holes before his first round on Thursday. So, if you know anything about the U.S. Open, you know it's the world's hardest golf course and test of golf. It's brutal, the rough is about as thick as a jungle. And to think that Tiger Woods, or any golfer for that matter, could just step on to that grand stage with all that pressure and perform that well was pretty inconceivable to me at the time.

NEARY: But we know so much about how this guy seems to, you know, just be able to clear his mind. I mean, he's able to play such a mental game, just overcome so much. I guess you're never going to want to bet against him again, I would think.

Mr. MONARREZ: No. You know what? And Lynn, I'll tell you one thing. When I wrote that column I thought, it's going to take one of the monumental efforts in Tiger Woods' sports career, as great as he's been, as amazing as he's been over the years, it would take a Herculean effort to, you know, to get this done. And I mean Lazarus would have stood up and clapped for this guy for what he did. It was amazing that he hadn't played golf, didn't really know what he was going to bring to the course as far as shot-making ability and the endurance of walking. It's long course...

NEARY: Yeah.

Mr. MONARREZ: It's 7,600 yards. To do that for four days in different kinds of weather conditions, and he said at the end of the day, on Sunday he said this was probably his second most impressive victory in his career behind winning the Masters the first time basically as a kid in 1997.

NEARY: Yeah. Now, you received a few hundred emails I think, as a result of this. And in your column today you quote from some of them. Here's one from a guy named Len. Here's what Len has to say.

(Reading) Tiger showed how much you know about golf. Now show you're a man and eat crow in print.


(Soundbite of laughter)

NEARY: So what did you do?

Mr. MONARREZ: It's a full course of crow for the main course and humble pie for dessert. It's been all the way, those have been, that's exactly what the emails have been, Lynn. It's been, you know, a couple hundred probably at this point. And you know what, that's great, because, you know, it shows how much people care about the sport, how much they care about Tiger Woods. I love watching Tiger Woods play golf, I mean he is amazing. The things he does on the course, and certainly he's a man of fortitude, that he's just proved over and over again that you can never, never underestimate how strong he is.

NEARY: Yeah. Now let's talk about the couple of the game on Sunday. Let's talk about what happened on Sunday, because he was behind on Sunday and had some pretty bad shots. He was really in the rough, and then I think he ended up, you know, in a sand trap at one point. What was going through your mind as you were watching him? Did you think he was really going to be able to pull it out? He only had to do it by one, I know, I think, but did you think he was going to do it?

Mr. MONARREZ: Well, you know, it's funny. Golf is a strange game. I play the game myself, and you know, sometimes you're up, sometimes you're down. It can change so dramatically so quickly. When - Phil Mickelson was a great example of that. In one of the rounds he made a nine, a quadruple bogey on a par five. And his just - his chances evaporated. And you want to figure that Tiger Woods is strong enough to hold it together, but he's also human, you know. I think he would even admit that, maybe. So, you know, it can go very quickly.

And certainly when you're dealing with the pain, and you know, the little things that bother you when you are playing a sport, it just changes the dynamics of how you swing and how you play, how you think. He could have a bad hole, a very bad hole and it could all go quickly. He was leading for awhile, he was leading, I think, by three shots at one point over Rocco Mediate, and then he was trailing. And then he ended up (unintelligible) again, which is where it mattered, you know, on the 19th playoff hole.

NEARY: Let's talk a little about Rocco Mediate because, I mean, what an experience this had to be for him. Obviously I'm sure he's not happy that he didn't win, but this had to be the tournament of his lifetime and to get this chance to play this one on one with Tiger Woods in the final playoffs there.

Mr. MONARREZ: Oh absolutely, and you know he handled it beautifully. Rocco's always been a very amiable person, very affable, fun loving. We have a tournament here near Flint Michigan, the Buick Open and Tiger Woods actually opened, plays most of the time, and Rocco Mediate plays most of the time. And Rocco's won it in the past. And he's always very gregarious and just really enjoys - you know, that's the cliche about, you've got to have fun when you're playing sports. Well Rocco does. I mean he really enjoys it, he really appreciates it.

He's had a lot of back injuries over the years and he's 45 years old. He knows he's toward the end of his career and he's going to appreciate and love every minute hat he can get out of it. And a funny little story, an aside, is last year - he's from the Pittsburgh area. Last year the U.S. Open was held in an Oakmont outside of Pittsburgh, and he was actually there one of the days before the tournament, I got to play in a private golf course there, I was invited.

And Rocco's brother happened to be a member and there was a little rain delay and you go in the little clubhouse and wouldn't you know, Rocco's sitting there playing poker. He's a very accomplished poker player. Having fun and telling stories and it's just a testament. He's not a fake. He's fun on the course, off the course. He just enjoys his life and experiences.

NEARY: We're talking with Carlos Monarrez. He's a columnist for the Detroit Free Press and he predicted that Tiger Woods did not have a chance to win the U.S. Open. If you'd like to give us a call, the number is 800-989-8255. And we're going to take a call now from Jay and Jay is calling from Georgia. Hi, Jay.

JAY (Caller): Hi, Lynn, how are you?

NEARY: I'm very well, thank, how are you?

JAY: Good, I'm very good. Listen, I enjoyed every minute of that game, of that match yesterday. I couldn't believe Tiger actually pulled it off. I'm a huge fan of Tiger's, and I've always like Rocco, and I was hoping that Rocco would pull it off, but he couldn't do it.

NEARY: It would have been a pretty amazing win for Rocco, wouldn't it have?

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAY: It would have. And I want to, if I could tell Rocco something I would say that Tiger's name didn't seem to bother him as much as one might think. Because there were 100 and some odd other golfers who didn't show up on Monday.

NEARY: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JAY: Tiger was playing pretty well.

NEARY: He was playing pretty well, but I think Rocco gave him a run for his money right there to the bitter end, huh?

JAY: Rocco did virtually everything right.

NEARY: Yeah, well thanks...

JAY: I was just going to say he made a couple of mistakes but they weren't rookie mistakes, they were just things that any of us might have done, chunking a chip here or there. And he just played a marvelous match and so did Tiger, it was great.

NEARY: Yeah a great match. OK, great. Thanks for calling us, Jay.

JAY: Thank you. Bye-bye.

NEARY: All right, bye-bye. We're going to take a call now from Josh who is calling from Salt Lake City, Utah. Hi, Josh.

JOSH (Caller): Hi. Hi, Lynn. I just wanted to comment about what I think is a myth about the injured athlete. It seems like whenever somebody is down with the flu or has got an injury they are coming off of, they have the game of their life.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOSH: Every time they mentioned the knee, my eyes just rolled, and I just thought oh, you know, he's going to have the game of his life. And he did.

NEARY: Did you watch it?

JOSH: Yeah, it was painful to watch. I was probably one of the only people that I know that didn't really want Tiger to get it this time.

NEARY: Oh, you didn't?

JOSH: Yeah, he's the Goliath. I wanted to see David take him down.

NEARY: Yeah, no, I think that Rocco - as I understand it, I didn't see it Monday, I saw a fair amount of it on Sunday. But I understand on Monday he, you know, he had a lot of fans out there along with the Tiger fans.

JOSH: That's great. And I shouldn't say too much to that because golf you are really playing against yourself, and you know, you can't really cheat.

(Soundbite of laughter)

JOSH: So nothing to take away from the guy, but he's been golfing his whole life.

NEARY: Yeah. All right, well thanks for your call, Josh.

JOSH: Thanks guys.

NEARY: OK, and now we're going to go to Francine and Francine is calling from Portland Oregon. Hi, Francine.

FRANCINE (Caller): Hi, I'm a huge Tiger Woods fan and I was well aware watching Monday of his record when he maintains the 54-hole lead, having never lost the lead. He's 13 and 0 or something like that. And I thought, given his knee injury, and given for the affable likable nature of Rocco Mediate, that this would be the one time where I would feel OK with him losing that record. And it was sort of, we would all just sort of get it over with and not have this buildup to these 54-hole lead situations. So, I was preparing for him to lose, and I kept preparing for him to lose and the when he won I just couldn't believe it. I about fell out of my skin. So I guess the tension will sort of carry into the next Major if he makes it to the British Open.

NEARY: Yeah, actually, they are actually saying, I don't know Carlos, are they saying, is he possibly not going to go to the British Open?

Mr. MONARREZ: No, he would go. He would cut his leg off and swim across the ocean to get to the British Open. The Majors are all he cares about. The question is, he's scheduled to play next week here in the Buick Open in Michigan, and then two weeks after that he has his own tournament in the Washington area, the AT&T National. Those are question marks. You know, I think the wise call is that he shuts it down until the British Open in July.

And the only question we had yesterday for him after he won was, did you possibly injure this knee more, could you have hurt it more by playing this week? And he just gave us his little impish kind of smile and nodded and he wouldn't say anything about it. No one but him and his doctor know how much damage he could have done to it. So my question is, should he even have played this week? I mean, if is doing - caught you know, serious long term damage to his knee by winning one Major then you know he has several Majors.

I mean, he's easily going to catch Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Majors. Why risk it all for one? I hope that's not the case, but I think he's smart to know that, you know, what the risk potential was. So my guess is, we're not going to see him until the British Open in July.

NEARY: OK, Francine, thanks so much for your call. And let me remind everyone that you are listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. OK, we're going to go to another call, this is Nick is on the line. Hi, Nick.

NICK (Caller): Hi, how are you?

NEARY: I'm good, how are you?

NICK: Pretty good. I just wanted to say, first of all I want to congratulate Rocco because he did a great job fighting in there, hanging in there with Tiger. But my main comment is that, first of all you should never, everybody should always know, never ever, ever count Tiger Woods out. I can't believe it's, I mean it's a long shot to guess that and if you're right you look like a star but it really doesn't make much sense to count Tiger out. I'm obviously a big fan. And I think that what sums it up is the commercial that ran with Tiger's dad talking. And his dad says he taught Tiger when he was little that he would never meet a competitor that had a tougher mentality than him. And then he goes on to say, and he never has and he never will. And I think that sums it all up.

NEARY: All right, thanks for your call, Nick. So Carlos, are you going to take that advice? Never ever, ever, ever, ever count Tiger Woods out again.

Mr. MONARREZ: Well, I'll tell you one thing, when I did count him out before and I was right at Winged Foot at the 2006 U.S. Open. His father had just died and he had a similar layoff of a couple of months, I believe. And I didn't write anything then because I felt it really wasn't appropriate to essentially, you know, kick somebody while they were down and recovering from such a tough personal loss. But I think that was sort of the consensus among reporters at the time was there was no way that this guy hasn't picked up a club, hasn't wanted to pick up a club, because every time he did it reminded him of the lessons he learned with his dad, his first teacher.

And sure enough, he missed the cut. It was the first time he missed the cut in a Major and, you now, it was hardly a surprise at the time. And you know, again, it proves that small little threat of a possibility that Tiger's possibly human. I don't know if we really want to think of that or want to consider it, but there's a strong possibility that he is human. And - but no, absolutely. All credit to Tiger for this one for what he did physically and mentally to win this tournament. Amazing. I mean it will go down as one of the all time sports moments in history.

NEARY: Yeah. Let's go now to Jeff. He's calling from Beaufort, South Carolina. Hi Jeff. Jeff, you there?

JEFF (Caller): Yes, I'm here. I just wanted to follow up on the previous caller. I think the importance of it being Fathers' Day weekend and Tiger's relationship with his dad and now his status of being a father himself, coupled with his mental toughness, absolutely led to his win. I watched all of it, it was an amazing win. He's an amazing athlete. It was just a great win for Tiger.

NEARY: Great, thanks so much for calling.

JEFF: Thank you.

NEARY: I was wondering, Carlos, you were just saying this is going to be one of the great sports moments ever. I mean was this really one of greatest tournaments ever? Maybe the greatest, I don't know. I don't know enough about golf. Where does it fit in historically?

Mr. MONARREZ: Historically, it doesn't - it registers only insomuch that it was a personal triumph for Tiger to come back through the adversity of his physical ailment. And the thing about it, is we don't really know exactly happened with his knee, and as I understand probably they cleaned up some cartilage he had floating around there in his left knee. It certainly wasn't Ben Hogan returning from, you know, a head-on collision with a bus and almost being told he wasn't going to walk again and coming back and winning a Major, I believe, in 1953.

And it's also, you think about Tiger and you know we asked him yesterday to kind of place it in history. And even just in his own career, the 1997 Masters was pretty much the touchstone victory for him. Winning the 2000 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach by, I believe, 15 strokes. That was definitely one of the all time impressive accomplishments in his career.

This one, I think one of the reasons a lot of people gave him a chance was because he's won at Torrey Pines so often on the PGA Tour, I believe it's been six times, and he sort of owns the course. Even though it was changed quite a bit for this tournament he's still familiar and comfortable with it. He just kind of had to relearn some of the lines on the - you know, for putting on the greens and sort of the shapes of the fairways and the rough and such. But he knows the course, and that really I think helped him in this case.

NEARY: And the other thing I liked about this is the photograph today on the front pages of all the newspapers showed both of them smiling. They both had a good time at this tournament...

Mr. MONARREZ: Absolutely, you know and as much as reporters, you know, don't like Monday morning playoffs after being at a course - at a tournament for seven days, this was great. I mean as....

NEARY: Carlos, I've got to go.


NEARY: Thanks so much for joining us today. Carlos Monarrez is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press and he joined us by phone from Detroit. And this is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary.

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