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Sure things are not part of any sport

By By Stan Togerson / sports columnist
June 17, 2003
How many sports columns did you read last week conceding golf's U.S. Open title to Tiger Woods? How many sportscasts did you see that emphasized he was undoubtedly the best in the world and the overwhelming favorite?
Did you see the odds column that made him a 3-1 favorite, with everyone else in double figures? Some of golf's biggest names and best players were 20-1 or more because Tiger was in the field.
What we learned once again this week is there are no sure things in competitive athletics and there are no print or broadcast experts who are always right.
It isn't a lesson we haven't learned before. We just have to be reminded once in a while.
Did the No. 1 women's tennis player in the world, Serena Williams, win the French Open? No, she did not.
Did Shaq, thought by many to be the world's greatest basketball player, lead his L.A. Lakers to another NBA title? Not this year he didn't.
Are the New York Yankees, with baseball's largest payroll and some of the sports best players, running away from the field in the AL East? No, they are fighting for their collective lives against Boston.
Whatever happened to Jeff Gordon, NASCAR's most consistent winner just a couple of years ago? Didn't he start playing catch-up last year and isn't he still doing it?
All other things being equal, there are some athletes with God-given talent who are better than most of the others in their sport, but there are none who are so much better they are unbeatable. Not Tiger, not Serena, not Shaq, not Jeff and not the New York Yankees.
That's why we watch the competition on television and read about it in our favorite newspaper. Intrinsically most of us know that is true. It is also the reason bookmakers get rich, because some people don't.
If you haven't played golf you can't possibly understand the pressure of it. It is the one major competitive sports where you are totally on your own.
Football is the ultimate team sport: 11 people working together on every play, starting when the others start, finishing together when the play ends, then regrouping to do it all over again. One-for-all and all-for-one.
Basketball also depends on togetherness, although it doesn't have the start and stop aspect of football. While it has its stars, you win as a team or you lose as a team. The greatest players, Michael Jordan for example, can lead the way, but they can't do it by themselves.
Baseball has a one-on-one aspect, batter against pitcher, but the other eight guys on the field must always be prepared to be part of the action.
You might cite tennis as another of the lonely sports, but the fact is there's someone on the other side of that net hitting the ball back at you. How hard they hit it, and how skillfully, determines your response. At no time are you strictly on your own.
But in golf there's no one on your side or on the other, and no individual to influence the result of your effort. Standing over a short putt that is absolutely crucial, whether it is to win the Open or a $5 bet on the 18th green, is one of the loneliest moments in sports.
The end result is utterly in your hands and the only pressure that may be comparable is that of the field goal kicker when he is deciding a game by what he does or does not do. But even then the end result can be determined by his teammate's performance at their jobs. The golfer has no one he can credit and no one he can blame.
Jim Furyk's inscrutable face as he played the final 18 holes on his way to a national championship had to be at complete odds with how he felt on the inside. If he was churning, thinking of all the years he had waited for that moment, he did a remarkable job of not revealing it. My knees would have sounded like a pair of castanets.
There are many people who will say they don't like golf on television. Of course there are people who don't like T-bone steaks and mushrooms either. They don't realize the challenge the sport presents.
And for those who wonder why Tiger Woods didn't win, think of it this way. The week of the Open the undisputed best player in the world was just another guy who couldn't hit a green and couldn't sink a putt. The best player in the world was just, well, ordinary.
For one magic week, somebody else was better.

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