Wednesday, April 10, 2013

The Question O'The Day: Will We See Fearful Symmetry On Sunday — Or, Will We See The Same Ol' Toothless Tiger?

CBS announcer Jim Nantz will unctuously pronounce the equivalent of "Gentlemen, start your engines!" when the TV coverage of the 2013 Masters Golf Tournament opens with “Hello friends, it's the Masters — a tradition like no other.” March Madness has come and gone and now it's time for azaleas and green jackets. Eldrick (Tiger) Woods has emerged from golf purgatory to stand as the favorite to win the green jacket in 2013. Hmmmm. Will we see the old Tiger who owned the Augusta National course or will it be another iteration of the scandalized Tiger? The New Yorker's John Cassidy is imbibing deeply of the Old Tiger Kool-Aid. Even sending a little more than $150 (10 quid) to a Brit chum to wager with a London bookmaker is more evidence of Tiger-Kool-Aid gulping. After reading John Cassidy's reasons for betting on a Tiger victory, this blogger is reminded of the old Texas saying: "When if's and but's become candy and nuts, we'll have a helluva Christmas." If this is a (fair & balanced} illustration of how a fool and his money are soon parted, so be it.

[x New Yorker]
The Masters: Why My Money Is On Tiger Woods
By John Cassidy

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It’s Masters time again, and, like last year, the big question is whether Tiger Woods can win, thereby putting him back on track to catch Jack Nicklaus’s record of eighteen major championships. (Since his 2008 victory at the U.S. Open, Tiger’s been stuck on fourteen.) I think Tiger can do it, and I’m putting my money where my mouth is.

Earlier today, I texted a pal in England and asked him to wager ten pounds on Tiger at a British bookmaker. To be sure, the result is hardly going to break the bank either way, but having a little cash at stake adds to the rooting interest. If I weren’t such a wimp, I’d up the ante. In my view, the probability of Tiger notching his fifth Masters win come Sunday evening is substantially higher than the betting odds of 4/1 or 9/2 indicate, which is about twenty per cent. Tiger’s still more likely to lose than win, of course: that’s the way golf works. But this week, I wouldn’t bet against him.

Why do I feel this way? Here are six reasons:

1. History: When Tiger plays well early in the season, he often goes on to win the Masters, and this year he’s been playing as well as he ever has. In his last two tournaments on the P.G.A. tour, he finished first. He also won in January, and a couple of weeks ago he even led his team to victory in the Tavistock Cup, a more informal match among the pros. Almost every time he tees up, he looks like a winner.

2. Psychology: Having recently regained the No. 1 ranking in the world, Tiger has gotten back some of his swagger on the course, which helps him intimidate his opponents. Most of them know he’s mentally tougher than they are. Doubtless, the fact that his personal life is in better shape—he’s dating the skier Lindsey Vonn—has also helped restore his mental edge. Although he’d never admit it publicly, his marital troubles, and the pounding he took in the media, clearly affected his game. On the course, he looked sullen and upset. Now he seems happier all-round, and it shows up in his play.

3. His competitors are struggling: Rory McIlroy and Luke Donald—second and fourth in the world rankings, respectively—have all been playing poorly. Brandt Snedeker, the No. 5 player, has been injured. Last week, in San Antonio, McIlroy showed improvement, finishing second. But he’s yet to demonstrate that he can win with his new Nike clubs, especially under the sort of pressure that the Masters entails. Donald is a short hitter, which makes it very hard for him to compete at Augusta National. Snedeker has an atrocious record in the majors. Phil Mickelson, another contender who’s now ranked ninth in the world, remains capable of winning, especially on this course, where he has come out on top three times, most recently in 2010. But, perhaps because of his psoriatic arthritis, he’s not the player he once was.

4. He loves Augusta: While there are plenty of other live contenders, such as the South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, and the Englishman Justin Rose, ranked No. 3, none of them has anything like Tiger’s record at Augusta. Although Tiger hasn’t won there since 2005, he’s had two seconds and third. And in six of the last seven years, he has finished in the top six. The course, which demands long drives and soft, high approach shots, fits his game very well. He can reach all the par fives comfortably, which means he effectively starts each round at two or three under par.

5. He’s putting great: Among the pros, it’s long been a truism that when Tiger drives it straight and putts well he’s virtually unbeatable, especially at Augusta, where sloped and slick greens place a premium on performing with the flat stick. In recent years, though, Tiger’s looked mortal. In 2011, he appeared to be charging to victory on Sunday afternoon, only to miss tiddlers on the twelfth and the fifteenth. What’s been most encouraging about his form this year is that his putting touch has returned, and then some. In Miami last month, he took just a hundred putts over four rounds—the lowest total in his career.

6. Karma: Nothing scientific here, but it just feels like Tiger’s year. He’s healthy, he’s winning, he’s got a new girlfriend—he’s even played a round with President Obama, something that would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago, when he was in the dog house. A fearsome competitor since he was knee-high, he’ll be giving it his all, which, history demonstrates, is usually sufficient to place him on the first page of the leaderboard on Sunday afternoon. If Tiger can hole some putts in his first couple of rounds to maintain his confidence on the greens, I think he has an excellent chance of getting that elusive fifth green jacket. Ω

[John Cassidy has been a staff writer at The New Yorker since 1995. He has written many, many articles for the magazine, on topics ranging from Alan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke to the Iraqi oil industry and the economics of Hollywood. His latest book is How Markets Fail: The Logic of Economic Calamities (2009). Cassidy received his undergraduate education at University College, Oxford, and holds masters degrees in journalism and in economics from Columbia University and New York University respectively.]

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