Commentary

Time for Tiger to step on the pedal

Updated: August 25, 2013, 12:19 AM ET
By Farrell Evans | ESPN.com

JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- If there is any truth about Tiger Woods, it's that he's a front-runner. In 79 career tour wins, he's had only 23 come-from-behind victories. The last time he did it was at the 2012 AT&T National.

In his five victories in 2013, he's held the outright lead in four of those events.

[+] EnlargeTiger Woods
Darren Carroll/Getty ImagesTiger Woods played his final 11 holes Saturday at 4-under while dealing with a sore back that has plagued him all week at Liberty National.

After a 2-under 69 in his third round Saturday at the Barclays, Tiger is 8-under and 4 shots back of the leaders, Matt Kuchar and Gary Woodland.

In his career, the 14-time major champion has only five victories when trailing by 4 strokes or more entering the final round.

It's the Barclays, not the U.S. Open or the Masters Tournament, so a come-from-behind victory from Woods on Sunday in the final round at Liberty National will not arouse memories of Torrey Pines in 2008 or Augusta National in 1997.

You can't fault the guy for being a leader and the best of his generation. But you can hope that he can also show some fight when he's down and things are imperfect. That's always the sign of a great champion. Muhammad Ali displayed that kind of greatness.

Tiger doesn't need to prove his worthiness as a giant in overcoming adversity or inner turmoil to win big events. What he did on one good leg at Torrey Pines in 2008 is nothing short of otherworldly.

But he has an opportunity on an ordinary scale Sunday afternoon to do something he hasn't done very often in his 17 years as a pro, and that's to catch the leaders and win the tournament.

When we talk about Tiger's chances of besting Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 majors, we need to put some thought to his ability and willingness to do the kind of thing Phil Mickelson did in the last round of the Open Championship, when Mickelson shot 66 to come from 5 shots back to win his first Claret Jug.

The Barclays is a way for Tiger to test his mettle for such an occasion. It's a way for him to build the reserves and fortifications for his turn at the stage that Mickelson captured at Muirfield.

On Saturday evening with a sore back, Tiger sounded like a man full of heart, experience and the wisdom for a good fight.

"You just figure out something to get it around, and I did," he said. "I figured out some shots that I knew I could play today and just relied on my putter."

Tiger knows what to say, but can he put those words into action and not become frustrated if things don't go his way on Sunday?

These fits of anxiety and impatience have often come early in rounds for Tiger as he's struggled to win his first major since the 2008 U.S. Open. More and more when he stumbles, he stays down.

At times, Woods hasn't even proven to be that same bulletproof star. Last year, after leading both the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship at the halfway point, he fell apart on Sunday.

How will he catch Kuchar and Woodland on Sunday afternoon?

For starters, he can't just simply hang around. On Saturday, he said that he just "hung around, hung around, hung around and had a nice finish."

He needs to play well early and consistently. Four shots back of the leaders on a course that is very susceptible to birdies, Tiger can't wait on the field to come back to him. He has to be aggressive from the first hole.

He praised Kevin Chappell's 62 on Saturday and noted how if one were aggressive off the tee, Liberty National could yield many wedges to greens.

That's the tactic he needs to take to win this tournament. Sure, he can't score from the rough, but he has to go for broke if he wants to earn his 80th title on Sunday night.

This opportunity at the Barclays can reap great rewards for him down the road. It's not the final round of a major, but for him, the stakes are just as high. By coming from behind, he can sharpen the grit that it's going to take at this point in his career to win more majors.

By the end of these playoffs, the payoff could be significantly more than a $10 million first prize.

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