In the latest edition of Duh Magazine (apologies to Andy Borowitz), Nick Faldo and Greg Norman shared an opinion that golf watchers have voiced for some time now: Tiger Woods has lost his aura of invincibility (see: Y.E. Yang, circa 2009).
In fact, Norman went a step beyond Faldo’s oft-recited observation that playing partners harbored no fear of the post-scandal Woods to aver that Tiger’s new best friend actually intimidated the former No. 1.
“You’ve got to beat the guy you’re taking over from to feel that you’re the top guy, and Rory’s starting to do that now,” Norman told FoxSports.com in an interview published on Tuesday.
Norman, second only to Woods in the number of weeks he spent atop the world golf rankings (331 to Tiger’s 623), believes the American was making nice with his primary competitor to hide his own self-doubt.
“What I’m seeing is that Tiger’s really intimidated by Rory,” said Norman of the player many believe has already begun to shove Woods out of the limelight.
“When have you ever seen him intimidated by another player? Never,” Norman noted about the two best golfers in the world, who will tee it up together again in the first two rounds of this week’s Tour Championship. “But I think he knows his time’s up and that’s normal; these things tend to go in 15-year cycles. Jack [Nicklaus] took it from Arnold [Palmer]. I took it from Jack, Tiger from me and now it looks like Rory’s taking it from Tiger.”
Wading into the “who will surpass Jack’s record?” quagmire, Norman went all in for the 23-year-old two-time major champ.
“And I don’t mean that as a negative to Tiger, because he’s got 14, but the years are in Rory’s favor,” Norman said. “Now, there’s a lot of X factors that we don’t know yet with Rory.... He’s got a lot to learn ... and we don’t know yet how he’s going to deal with all the scrutiny that comes with being No. 1, but just because he’s so good and so young, I have to go with him.”
Even Norman can’t foresee whether McIlroy’s youthful, chiseled body will fall victim to the same physical woes (or similar emotional turmoil) that have beset Woods over the years. For now and into the foreseeable future, however, Rory Mac’s the guy to beat.
Tiger, Norman said, will win his share of tournaments going forward, but a 15th major title will continue to elude him.
“The more you want something, the more you reach for it, the more it gets pushed away,” said Norman. “I know all about that. I had that with the Masters [which the 20-time PGA Tour winner never captured]. Tiger’s pushing himself harder and harder now because he’s not the force he used to be, and he knows it.
As for Faldo’s view of the state of Tiger Woods’ psyche, the Golf Channel analyst believes the second winningest tour pro of all time has buddied up to McIlroy to attempt to get into the youngster’s head the way he used to befuddle his playing partners.
“Tiger’s competitive,” Faldo, no fan of rivals chatting each other up, told the Irish Golf Desk’s Brian Keogh recently. “I’m sure he doesn’t want anyone else having his spotlight. He wants to beat this kid now.
“Tiger has a real goal, to come out and beat these youngsters again. He’s still just 36. He’s still competitive. He still believes and he wants to show them he is still the master,” Sir Nick said of the three-time 2012 tour victor who has failed to win a major since the 2008 U.S. Open.
“The problem," Faldo concluded, "is that kids like Rory aren’t as afraid of him as they used to be.”