Byline: Skip Bayless
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. _ On the West Coast it was Saturday-morning cartoon hour. No doubt kids from Seattle to San Diego tuned in to see one of their favorite superheroes, Tiger, beat up the bad guys from Spain and Sweden.
Around 8 a.m. Pacific time, Tiger Woods was finishing his Friday round. A birdie at the par-5 18th could increase his lead to eight shots at the U.S Open's halfway point. Once again Woods tried to bring a three-shot hole for everyone else to its two-shot knees. No play-safe 3-wood for him. Woods unleashed his driver.
But he pulled the trigger too quickly, double-crossing his tee shot, turning the intended power fade into a pull hook. Bye-bye, ball. Tiger on the rocks.
Tiger, unhinged. Five words flew from his mouth that took God's name in vain, incorporated the adjectival form of the curse word based on reproduction and finished off with a body-part reference.
"Blank blank you blanking blank," Woods snarled.
Pebble's 18th tee is isolated from fans, but an NBC boom mike all but serves as the tee marker. So Tiger was yelling live into living rooms around the world. Gee, Mommy, Barney never says that stuff.
No, but Woods was giving youngsters who idolize him a rare look into the real Tiger, the 24-year-old who still hasn't outgrown the spoiled child within. The real Tiger often uses foul language off-camera. The real Tiger still refuses to accept he has an on-camera responsibility to mind his tongue.
As Tom Kite, the 1992 Open winner at Pebble, said: "I never saw Arnie (Palmer) do it. I never saw Jack (Nicklaus) do it. I never saw (Tom) Watson do it. I doubt Bobby Jones ever did it. There's no place for it."
Of course, just about anyone who has ever hit a golf ball into a pond has gone uncharacteristically Mr. Hyde. For sure I've shocked myself with my scatological creativity. But I am not Tiger Woods.
Nor am I from his Rome-is-falling generation. I am from Kite's, and what he and I might not grasp is just how cool Woods' "cussing in church" is to his rebellious contemporaries. They love the outrageous in "Something About Mary" and "American Pie" _ two movies I must admit to liking. Woods' blue streak surely undercut his popularity among the shocked Buick-buying mothers of small children. But Nike privately had to love the way it increases his marketability among teenagers and 20-somethings.
Like the earringed Michael Jordan known for occasionally punching a teammate in practice or hitting an opponent in the face with the ball, Woods has a little gentleman rogue in him.
After Woods' outburst, NBC host Dan Hicks chided that "Michael Jordan would have never done that." Well, not on camera. But Jordan can talk trash with the worst of `em. As a basketball player, Jordan was able to channel his rage into 50-point outbursts and championships.
But in golf, rage can be channeled only into triple bogeys and missed cuts. Woods continues to fight his final flaw, the temper tantrum.
In apologizing on NBC, Woods said: "I let my emotions get the best of myself . ... Unfortunately, I let them voice out loud."
Remember, Woods' unprintable rage was aimed only at himself. He called himself all those names for hitting such a stupid blankety-blanking shot. But here was the key: This time Tiger Woods was immediately able to regain control of his go-to-your-room emotions and hit the turning-point shot of the 100th Open.
He did not retreat to an iron for his second tee shot, as most players would have. Another snap-hook down on the rocks could have sent Woods' score tumbling into Carmel Bay. He hit his driver again, and hit it the way he intended to the first time.
He made a great bogey. He was off to the races, eventually lapping the field. A triple bogey on No. 3 _ "I just got a bad break" _ triggered not even a gosh darn. On a wind-swept, rock-hard Pebble that had every other competitor muttering under his breath, Woods displayed new maturity.
After three rounds, Woods leads the Open by 10 shots, because he is golf's best driver, best shot-maker and best putter. Like Jordan, he has become the best at every phase of his game. Like Jordan, his body has matured from skinny to muscled. Like Jordan, he doesn't just want to win, he wants to bury the field.
But until Woods convinces himself that he just can't curse on national TV, he will lack one quality Jordan had in abundance. Class.
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