Tiger Woods, in his heyday as the winner of 14 major championships, golf lore has it, would appear on the first tee on Sunday draped in black and blood red, and his competitors’ knees would buckle under the virtual weight of all those Eldrick-etched trophies.
That belief, to which Woods’ erstwhile caddie, Steve Williams, wholeheartedly subscribed, was overblown, according to another Tiger ex, former swing coach Hank Haney.
"I didn’t buy into that when people talked about it as much as people talked about it," Haney told Golf.com during a promotional appearance on behalf of TaylorMade in New York on Tuesday. "Tiger won because he shot the lowest score, not because he intimidated his opponents."
Haney pointed to the drama that unfolded down the stretch at the Honda Classic a week ago to underline his belief that Sunday pressure, and not some other-worldly Tiger woo-woo, caused some golfers to throw up on their FootJoys.
"Back in the day when you were playing with Tiger, you were playing in the last group," said Haney, who wrote a book about his six years, from 2004-2010, as Woods’ swing guru. "It’s hard to play in the last group, no matter who you are playing with. Everyone says, ‘Oh, he can’t play with Tiger.’ It’s hard to play on the lead, and that’s hard no matter what tournament it is and no matter who’s playing."
Just ask Rory McIlroy, a two-time major champion who blew a late-inning Honda lead and ended up handing the victory to Russell Henley after the fourth-year PGA Tour pro was the last man standing in a four-golfer playoff.
"You look how difficult it was for those guys to close that tournament," Haney said. "It had nothing to do with Tiger being there. Nobody was intimidated by anyone. It’s hard to play on the lead."
While Haney questioned the existence of a Tiger Intimidation Factor, Williams holds a different view, telling Australia’s Fox Sports on Tuesday night that his old boss hasn’t won a major since the 2008 U.S. Open because he no longer projects a daunting mystique.
"Guys are coming along ... and they expect to win [because Tiger] has no intimidation factor any more," said Williams, who was on Woods’ bag for 13 years and 13 major titles until his dismissal in 2011, when he took up with Adam Scott.
"I always felt that was a big thing that guys were intimidated by him ... [but] there’s no intimidation factor any more and that counts a lot," said Williams, who also dispelled the notion that he and his old mate had made nice at Muirfield.
Indeed, Woods’ former hatchet man -- who just can’t seem to get over his axing from Team Tiger -- has had plenty to say about his ex employer, if not directly to him.
"I haven't sorted anything out with him. There's been a lot of ... this, that and the other ... but the hatchet hasn't been buried," said Williams, who in the recent past has seemed to do just that.
"It's just some personal things and some difference of opinions on how things went down ... and I need to sort that out with him," said Williams, who may be trying to hold onto his 15 minutes for a while longer after he eases into semi-retirement following the 2014 season.
Last November, a few months removed from the tender moment on the 72nd hole at the British Open, Williams made it clear he had more spleen to vent to Woods.
"I think Tiger and I need to sit down and have a conversation," Williams told the New Zealand Herald during the 2013 ISPS Handa World Cup. "That opportunity hasn't arisen yet, but that's something I'd like to do."
We’re guessing that Woods, who shared a few words and received a much-publicized pat on the back from Williams after playing with Scott in the final round of last year’s Open Championship, and is just trying to get through four full rounds of golf without dropping to his knees in pain, has more on his mind than kumbaya’ing with Stevie.
UPDATE: Haney, on Wednesday morning, took to Twitter to clarify his comments about whether Tiger cowed his opponents or not. Here’s Haney, unfiltered:
Media does this all the time, never said that, read the quote @RRavidgolfer:The Big Diss: Haney Says Players Were Never Intimidated By Tiger— Hank Haney (@HankDHaney) March 12, 2014
It is amazing how editors write headlines that don't match the quotes in the story and then whoever is quoted is credited w the headline— Hank Haney (@HankDHaney) March 12, 2014
On Tiger's intimidation I said "I didn't buy into it when people talked about it AS MUCH as they talked about it" never said it didn't exist— Hank Haney (@HankDHaney) March 12, 2014