Tiger Woods’ Intimidation Factor: Real or Imagined?

Hank Haney served as Tiger Woods‘ swing coach for six years. He was along for the ride as his player won every major championship in golf, and saw him compete as the most dominant athlete in the history of the sport. Yet, Haney believes other golfers were never intimidated by Woods.

When asked if Woods still carries the same aura about him, Haney told Golf.com, “I didn’t buy into that when people talked about it as much as people talked about it. Tiger won because he shot the lowest score, not because he intimidated his opponents.”

The coach then brought up the point that if guys were playing with Woods, it was often because they were in the final group of the tournament, which brings enough pressure on its own.

“Back in the day when you were playing with Tiger, you were playing in the last group. 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,” Haney said.

Tiger Woods Hank Haney 600

That’s all true – Woods won because he shot the lowest score (obviously) and it’s very difficult to close out a tournament. But why was Woods’ score the lowest so often? Because he was that much better than everyone else or because he got into players’ heads and they couldn’t keep up?

No one can say for sure; every player and every tournament is different. But the man who had the best view was Woods’ former caddie, Steve Williams. Like Haney, Williams had a tough falling out with Woods, but Williams freely admits that Woods used to intimidate people, even if he doesn’t anymore.
 
“He doesn’t have the intimidation factor anymore,” Williams said this week. “That was a big thing, guys were quite intimidated by him, but there is no intimidation any more. That counts for a lot.”

Tiger Woods Steve Williams 600

Believe what you want, but a man who was inside the ropes with Woods and standing right next to opponents seems to have a little more insight on the intimidation factor than a coach outside the ropes.

No player likes to admit if another intimidates him, but a year ago fellow pro Hunter Mahan said Woods is the “closest thing” to a person being able to intimidate others. Then he described the 2006 Open Championship.

“He came out and walked on the range, and it was the most intimidating thing I’ve ever seen,” Mahan said. “He just walked out of the car, and we were hitting balls and everyone on the range … everybody stopped and watched him. He just had this look like, ‘This is what I need to do.’ You can tell he was just in this zone. That was intimidating.”

Mahan also spoke of Woods’ intimidation factor early in 2010. He said it faded around the time Y.E. Yang took out Woods in the final round of the 2009 PGA Championship, the first time Woods failed to win a major when holding the 54-hole lead.

“We stopped being intimidated by him,” Mahan said. “No one is scared of him. We saw Y.E. Yang play with him and flat-out beat him at the PGA last year. I think people have figured out he’s just a human being.”

Overall, Woods is 54-4 when holding or sharing the lead as he enters the final round. That’s not purely a result of players being intimidated, but to a degree it’s surely a combination of Woods’ greatness coupled with opponents wilting under the spotlight that comes playing against him.

It’s impossible to not be aware of Woods’ presence on a golf course. No one in the history of the game has done what he’s done. With him comes more media and larger fan galleries. A guy could play Thursday and Friday with only a smattering of fans standing around the greens on which they’re putting, but if he’s with Woods on a Saturday or Sunday, hundreds of fans are watching.

Woods’ aura or intimidation factor – whatever you want to call it – may not be what it was last decade. But it was there, and more so than any other player in the world, it still is today.

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