Chat with Jason Sobel
Among his other duties, Sobel writes a weekly column, the "Weekly 18."
Send your questions now and join Jason on Monday at 1 p.m. ET!
Jason Sobel (1:01 PM)
Let's start the chat with four words: Best. Clutch. Putter. Ever. There's no debate. Jack Nicklaus? Ben Hogan? They may have made that putt at Bay Hill yesterday, may have missed. Tiger? It only would have been a surprise if it didn't go in. And with that, let's get to your questions, both Tiger and non-Tiger-related...
Do you think the tournament would have ended differently if Tiger and O'Hair were not in the same group? It's difficult to determine if O'Hair (or any goler) is intimidated by Tiger, but certainly the pressure that Tiger put on him from the outset eventually wore him down. Thoughts?
Jason Sobel (1:03 PM)
Well, first off, it's all speculative. My opinion? No, I think the result would have been the same. O'Hair admitted his ball-striking just wasn't there yesterday and that had nothing to do with Tiger. That said, I still don't believe in the so-called "intimidation factor" that people like to call into question when Woods is paired with fellow contenders. If anything, it's that these guys are too pumped up, too motivated to beat him, and fail to clear those mental hurdles. But I don't think anyone is scared of the guy, per se.
Brian from Boston
It was great to see the final group at the API start to finish on Sunday. I know it only happened due to the weather delay but I have always thought they should that they should do that more often. Do you think that there is any chance of the networks starting their coverage eariler or even something like the Golf Channel picking up the early hole coverage.
Jason Sobel (1:06 PM)
Nope, because they were playing with fire yesterday. Had that round lasted another five minutes, it would have been delayed until this morning -- and you know the major TV networks wouldn't want that. In fact, according to the rules, O'Hair (or Woods, for that matter) could have chosen to stop playing if he deemed it too dark to see. I know it looked light enough on TV, but check out some of the still photographs from the final hole and you'll see that they were basically finishing in total darkness. As for starting network coverage earlier, it's an intriguing thought; not sure whether that's ever been explored, though I do know that GC now has early-round coverage on cable.
Jeff, Bristol, Connecticut
I think Tiger is the best golfer ever. However, I wish he had some opponents that would stand up to him I mean to have a 5-shot lead, and lose it. All O'Hair had to do was shoot par, and he wins. Where are the players like Palmer, Nicklaus, Trevino, Player, and Watson today? Guys who would surely not wilt under the pressure. I would like to know your thoughts on that, please.
Jason Sobel (1:08 PM)
Aha! Knew I was going to get a question like this. How soon we forget. Two years ago at the Masters, Zach Johnson held a slight lead over Tiger and went on to win the Masters. Two months after that, Angel Cabrera did the same thing. Last year, Trevor Immelman held him off at the Masters. Don't let one guy's loss fool you into believing that everyone always "wilts" at the hands of Tiger.
Scott (Boston, MA)
Jason, love the columns. I will question your opinion on Tiger not being in the same group. They had the stat on the telecast that on Sunday in the final round Tiger's opponents have only beaten him 8 out of now 85 times! I mean, he's the greatest ever but there has to be some kind of intimidation, nerves that comes with that kind of a stat.
Jason Sobel (1:10 PM)
Can't argue with the numbers, but again, I think intimidation is the wrong word. I believe that a guy like Sean O'Hair can play three rounds in a relaxed atmosphere, a good amount of fans, but not Tiger-like galleries, and score well. When it comes down to playing with him, that relaxation fades and there's a sense of wanting it too much. To me, that's not intimidation; it's just a lack of concentration and execution.
Jared from Boston
We have to add a new stat to Tiger's resume. Walk of Putts (WOP) Which is 6 feet or longer and for the win or tie that gets you in a playoff that you win) I count 6. '05 Masters, '08 US Open, 3 Bay Hill, '00 PGA. Does anybody else even come close?
Jason Sobel (1:12 PM)
Love the idea. The PGA Tour certainly doesn't keep track of these statistics, so it's likely impossible to compare Tiger's numbers with those of players past and present, but I've got to think he has more final-hole either tying or winning putts than anyone else in history.
Doug from Missouri
Tiger's swing looks great right now. His misses are so much smaller than they used to be pre-swing changes and pre-surgery. The only difference I see now is he doesn't seem to have that extra gear with his swing now. Not the super fast hips and more upright swing to hit the longer par 5's on tour now, as evidenced by laying up on 12 yesterday from 285 yards out. Any thoughts?
Jason Sobel (1:15 PM)
Well, I actually thought his distance control was off for the two round sof the Match Play and first two rounds at Doral; it wasn't until the weekend of the CA that he really looked comfortable with his irons. As for missing that extra gear, Woods is the first one to say that he doesn't hit the ball nearly as long as he did when he was younger. And he's adjusted his game to fit that. Would a 25-year-old Tiger have gone for the green from 285 out? Maybe, but it wouldn't have necessarily equated to a better score on the hole. Sometimes being longer can be a bit of a Catch-22 in that guys often get themselves into trouble because they believe they can get it to the green from anywhere.
Jason, why didn't Tiger work on his winning high five during his 9 months off? His high five with Stevie rivals Lefty's victory leap at Augusta for most awkward winning moment
Jason Sobel (1:17 PM)
Actually, if you compare it to, say, the celeration after chipping in on No. 16 at the 2005 Masters, they've gotten their act together quite nicely. But you're right -- they could be more on the same page. One wants to hug, the other wants to high-five. And then at the last minute, they both switch. It's like a bad game of rock-paper-scissors.
Everyone keeps talking about that putt, but I think the approach shot was much more impressive than that putt was. To hit that shot to within 12 feet below the hole was a lot tougher than hitting a 12 foot putt pretty much straight in.
Jason Sobel (1:18 PM)
Great point. Prior to Woods' birdie, there were only six made at the 18th hole all day -- and plenty of guys were bouncing 'em off the rocks and rinsing 'em in the drink, like TW did the day before. The approach shot was awesome, but as always, a putt of that length to win is going to garner much of the day-after attention.
UNREAL! Tiger Woods is the most dominate athlete in ANY sport of all time. I challenge ESPN to prove me wrong. He's the most intimidating, clutch, dominate man on the face of the planet. Only Tiger can handle the pressure of a 16 foot birdie on the 72nd hole to win. A list of athletes that compare doesn't exist.
Jason Sobel (1:21 PM)
Slow down, champ. No one is trying to prove you wrong. I hate getting into the "athlete" argument, so I'll just maintain that Tiger is the greatest competitor in sports today. And I don't think we can consider him the "best" golfer of all-time until he passes Jack Nicklaus' career major mark, but it's safe to say he is the most dominant. It's all semantics, I suppose, but that's my take on it.
Don't you feel that Tiger's win was a little blown out of proportion? Phil, Sergio, Ogilvy and many other top players in the world weren't playing. Phil has won twice with better fields and hasn't gotten any where close to this much attention.
Jason Sobel (1:24 PM)
Look, Tiger is Tiger; he's always going to garner more attention than Phil, rightfully so or not. But I don't think the lack of other top-five players in the field detracts from yesterday's win at all. He came back from five down against a legit player on a very tough golf course. It's sort of like criticizing a college football team for going 11-0 but not playing any good opponents; you can only beat the guy you're matched up against and that's what Woods did.
And how about those two under-the-lip-fried-egg bunker shots? Those exemplify the sheer strength this guy brings to the table. Only Phil, maybe, could have pulled those off.
Jason Sobel (1:26 PM)
Well, I think there are others who could have done it -- I saw John Senden hit a similar shot yesterday -- but the fact that he played those two holes in only 1-over-par is the more remarkable part of it. Everyone gets bad breaks on the course, but Tiger didn't let his take him out of contention.
Is the tour serious about the caddie mics? I can only imagine the networks cringing when Steve's mic picks up Tiger on a bad shot. I can read lips and there were a couple of colorful words coming out of Tiger yesterday.
Jason Sobel (1:27 PM)
From what I hear, caddies will have the option of wearing the mics or turning down the offer. Can't imagine Stevie would say yes.
Nathan (GR Michigan)
Why is tiger so dominant, and why does it seem so easy for him to come from behind?
Jason Sobel (1:29 PM)
Both of those questions can be boiled down to one simple answer: He's really good. OK, two answers: He's mentally tougher than anyone else out there. I know we've been saying this for years and obviously there's no way to ever prove such a thing, but it's true; Woods is so in control of the moment that he doesn't let it swallow him up. Instead, he seizes on the opportunity. It's what separates him from everybody else.
Chad (Las Vegas)
How much of Tiger's great putting is a result of him consistantly putting his shot closer to the hole than his opponents and getting a read on the green from their putts?
Jason Sobel (1:30 PM)
Not always necessarily the case. Woods led the field in distance to the hole from 100-125 yards out this past week (just over 9 feet), but his greens in reg percentage was awful, just over 50 percent. As for that final putt, he got no read on it from O'Hair or Johnson, so that certainly wasn't a factor.
No surprise: Tiger drove the overnight TV ratings to new highs. The Tour is too dependent on Tiger? Non-Tiger tourneys lose out?
Jason Sobel (1:33 PM)
I've written this so many times I should be able to just cut and paste by now: Tiger is in many respects the greatest thing to happen to golf in a long time (bigger purses, more sponsors, greater interest in the game), but also the worst thing. When he's not playing -- as we saw from last June until February -- interest level in the game seriously diminishes, even when other very good players are competing at high levels in some excellent events. So yes, there are two separates tours within the PGA Tour and the non-Tiger events do lose out. That said, there's no real way around it, either.
When do you think tiger will get past Jack N. for most majors? How do you think that would be celebrated by tiger?
Jason Sobel (1:37 PM)
I usually put Woods down for two majors per year. If you're asking me to predict when and how many he'll win, I can't do it; I'd just be guessing like any of you. But let's look at his current pace. He's won 14 majors in 46 starts as a pro. That's a 30 percent clip. That means he'll win four of the next 12, giving him 18 (tied with Jack) entering the 2012 season. Will that actually happen that way? No one knows; it's what keeps us watching. As for the celebration, expect it to be understated yet emotional. It's something he wants very dearly, but Woods won't break into a dance on the final green of some major when it happens.
When does your breakdown of the Masters' field come out? Is Tiger now the prohibitive favorite?
Jason Sobel (1:38 PM)
It will be posted next Wednesday, the day before the Masters starts. Prior to Bay Hill, I had TW at 1A and Phil at 1B, sort of co-favorites with a slight nod toward Tiger, but right now, yes, I think Woods is the prohibitive favorite once again.
Jason, I may be crazy but I don't remember Tiger as always being a great putter. I can remember the broadcasters talking about how it was the weakest part of his game. That does not mean he was not good, considering the other facets of his game were incredible.
Jason Sobel (1:40 PM)
Always a very good putter, who somehow turns it up a notch when the tourney is on the line. To analogize with other sports, it's like an 80 percent free throw shooter who becomes a 97 percent shooter in the final two minutes of games, or a .290 hitter who ups his average to .450 in ninth-inning ABs.
Glenn (Cedar Rapids)
How do you think Tiger's play would have been evaluated had Sean gone on to, say, shoot 67 also? In other words, would people still be saying he's ready to win the masters had he shot the same but not won?
Jason Sobel (1:43 PM)
Can't tell you what "people" would say, but personally Tiger didn't need to win that tournament for me to know he was ready for the Masters. He had already played six competitive rounds (eight if you count the Tavistock) and his ball-striking was getting progressively better. The putter was still a bit cold, but that should never be a worry when it comes to Woods -- he never slumps with the flatstick for very long. And at Augusta National -- on greens he knows so well -- expect him to have even more of an advantage.
Can Tiger Catch Snead and Nicklaus?
Jason Sobel (1:45 PM)
Absolutely. Heck, he may catch Jack this year, if he gets hot. Woods now stands at 66 career PGA Tour wins, seven behind Nicklaus and 16 behind Snead for the all-time lead. I'd be shocked if he doesn't hit triple-digits by the time he hangs it up -- and that could be well into triple-digits, maybe even twice the number of titles he owns right now.
Fratz (San Francisco, CA)
Sobel...just wondering about your opinion. Do you think Tiger's knee will hold up for the long haul, and will he ultimately break Jack's record of majors? If so...how many do you think he'll win?
Jason Sobel (1:47 PM)
I honestly don't think the knee is an issue. It was injured, he got it fixed. And really, Tiger proved he can win on one leg anyway, so I'm not sure even that can stop him. As for his all-time major win total, I've been on record for a few years as saying he'll get to 24, so I'm sticking with it. There's a lot of motivation to pass Jack, obviously, but you'd better believe Woods wants to put the record out of reach for the next young hotshot who comes along.
To be devil's advocate: since Tiger plays the same courses over and over and probably hits to the same spots on the greens, can we attribute some of his clutch putts to course-knowlegdge (I know, you still have to make the putt)
Jason Sobel (1:49 PM)
No. I mean, if that was the case, then wouldn't veterans like Mark Calcavecchia and Rocco Mediate and Kenny Perry -- guys who have been around for years -- be making "clutch" putts every week, too? By the time Sunday afternoon rolls around, every player in the field knows how the greens are rolling and where the putts are breaking. They obviously won't always hit 'em exactly the way they want, but I don't think Woods has any more course knowledge than the next guy.
Patrick ( Louisville )
To switch gears...should Tiger take the week off prior to the masters or play the Shell? Who is your pick to take the Shell in his absence?
Jason Sobel (1:53 PM)
Nah, he's never played the week before a Masters before -- or any major, save for the PGA, really -- so no reason to shift gears now. In my W18 column, I picked Charles Howell III to win this week, but it was more of a sentimental pick than anything else. Would be nice to see the Augusta guy get a chance to go back home again. But I wouldn't place any quid on that pick, if I were you.
Any chance of Phil still taking over No. 1 with a win in Houston?
Jason Sobel (1:54 PM)
I'll have to talk to the guys who run the OWGR, but I believe Tiger is safe for now. If Phil has a big week in Houston and then wins the Masters, though, a green jacket could come with the No. 1 ranking.
Jason, A lot has been made of the -- Tiger isn't the best ever until he wins 19 majors-- thing, but don't you think that if you put Jack against Tiger in their primes and Tiger has to get the nod? Jack had a few better competitors, but Tiger's fields are much much deeper.
Jason Sobel (1:55 PM)
Like I wrote earlier, Tiger is more dominant, but Jack is the "best" just because the elite players judge themselves on one thing and that's major championships. Ask Tiger and he'll say the same thing. Doesn't mean he wouldn't beat Jack; it just means he hasn't reached that tangible level yet.
Much to my surprise, ESPN's frontpage last night didn't show the Final Four teams but a picture of Tiger's celebration. Has he become bigger than March Madness that winning a non-major pre-empts the Final Four?
Jason Sobel (1:58 PM)
I'll leave that one for the Page 1 editors here at ESPN.com, though I do have to wonder: If Scottie Reynolds' buzzer-beater had taken place at roughly the same time as Tiger's putt, which one would have led the site? Tough call. I think the decision became easier when neither of the two NCAA games were very close yesterday.
Love the columns Jason. Were you close enough to see Tiger limping after the celebration? Rewound the DVR several times. When Steve picked up Tiger he landed with left leg up and gingerly put on the ground. Again, after shaking hands, the camera caught Tiger walking toward Arnie. Any thoughts?
Jason Sobel (1:59 PM)
I wasn't at Bay Hill yesterday. Saw a little limping, but in recent weeks Tiger has intimated that his ankle is a little sore just from so much walking on the course. That doesn't mean it's really his ankle and not his knee -- he may very well just be deflecting the question -- but let's look at it this way: If the knee is bothering him, it sure isn't showing in his game.
I don't think you'll get any non-Tiger related questions today, Jason.
Jason Sobel (2:02 PM)
Good call, Tiger. the over/under on non-Tiger questions was 0.5; if you had the under, you're a winner. Thanks for the questions. Go read my Weekly 18 column, because, well, why not? And remember: The Masters Live Blog returns next week, first for the Par-3 Contest on Wednesday, then full bore for the opening round on Thursday morning. Until then, hit 'em straight ...