I HAVE AN INDELIBLE CHILDHOOD memory of the opening of The Rifleman, the Sam Peckinpah TV western that ran from 1958-1963 (I saw it in reruns, btw).
Fade from black to a man bracing a Winchester rifle against his groin. It's a tight shot--all belt buckle, gun butt, and a hand cocking the brass-knuckled, rapid-fire trigger. The camera tracks back as The Rifleman strides slowly forward pumping the trigger, blasting 13 shots in 5 seconds as the Marlboro-man styled music kicks in. It was the most insistent, driving, inevitable display of machismo I had ever seen.
Sergio Garcia isn't old enough to remember The Rifleman, but Chris Dimarco might have seen it. He certainly saw something like that opening credit sequence coming up behind him, hole after hole, on the the back nine at Royal Liverpool yesterday: Tiger Woods marching dead up the center of the fairway, long iron in his hand, firing perfectly targeted shot after perfectly targeted shot.
Tiger's third Open Championship was a master class in the way teachers try to get you to play scoring golf: Keep the ball in the fairway, play for the safe parts of the green, putt with confidence.
Of course not every golfer can hit an 8 iron 180 yards. And no other golfer can hit a 2 iron. But almost every golfer--from Tiger to the weekend duffer--tries to do more than just keep it in the fairway and play for the safe parts of the green. Everyone wants to slam the big dog as far as they can, play driver-wedge, attack the hole, leaving golfers to execute two of the hardest-to-control shots in golf--over-rotated drives and partial wedge shots--instead of hitting 3-iron, 7-iron, right down the middle of the hole like a course diagram.
In a way its an anti-Rifleman approach and it challenges male golfers like nothing else in the game. Put down the rifle, son, and pick up the little cap gun 'cause you can't handle the big boy. But in Tiger's case it was like going from a canon to a repeating Winchester.
In the years since he fired coach Butch Harmon, hired new coach Hank Haney, and rebuilt his swing, Tiger has been a frustrating golfer to watch. Yeah, he was longer off the tee, but scatter-shot, and always playing out of trouble instead of executing approach shots like an assassin. The short track at Royal Liverpool was supposed to be an equalizer, a course that gave short hitters a chance to play with the bombers. But on the burnt sand that passed for a golf course at Hoylake, Woods hit his driver only once.
Imagine the temptation. Every male golfer has felt it. The round is going well, you vowed you would stick to your game plan and hit other clubs off certain tees. But here comes a par five with a chance to really score. And your dick gets hard.
Tiger kept it in his pants on all but the 16th hole in the first round. That's discipline.
It remains to be seen whether or not we're looking at a new Tiger Woods. No doubt when he's standing on Beth Page he'll be firing the rocket launcher. But on other courses I like to see him hit rifle.