In a stellar performance that included a seven shot victory at the Bridgestone Invitational this weekend, world-ranked number one golfer Tiger Woods set the stage for this week's PGA Championship. Tiger, who has not won a major championship since the 2008 U.S. Open, looks as strong as ever, yet something else jumps out: his mental performance.
The one thing about Tiger Woods is when he's hot he's hot, and while he's had a huge 2013 season, his mental toughness was on full display this weekend. Simply put: it's almost predictable when Tiger Woods will win because it's written on his face, in his eyes and it's a certain aura that only a few other world-class athletes display when they are truly in full control. Tiger displayed that this weekend at the Bridgestone.
As I predicted on The Golf Channel in 2011, it wasn't a question of when Tiger Woods would be back, but when it would happen. Sure, he's been back for a while now, but the one thing still eluding him is that major championship. Once he captures that, the Tiger comeback story will be complete.
In case you didn't notice, a look back at the history books also indicates Tiger is a really strong favorite going into the PGA Championship at Oak Hill: he won at Bridgestone and went on to win the PGA Championship three times in the past (2000, 2006, 2007). Despite what the record books say, the bottom line is Tiger Woods is ready to embrace the Wanamaker Trophy come next Sunday afternoon.
In studying Tiger and having worked with a number of professional athletes on mental performance over the years, here's why I believe a Tiger Woods victory at Oak Hill is a very real possibility:
Champions know adversity is the catalyst of mental toughness
For true champions, adversity is a challenge in which learning and growing occurs. Their world view is evident in the way they describe the adversities they face. While average people choose the path of least resistance, world-class performers are operating at a higher level of awareness. They understand that the stress and struggles we endure are the key factors in becoming mentally tough. This higher level of awareness is so obvious when you watch Tiger Woods. He walks the golf course again like he owns the place, and there's no way anybody can even try to tell him that he won't win The PGA Championship, or break Jack Nicklaus' record of major championship victories. Woods is as mentaly tough as ever.
Tiger Woods is one of the best comeback artists of all time
Champions fail again and again. Michael Jordan said, "I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."
Same can be said about Tiger Woods. He's had his share of professional and personal success and failure. The average person is demoralized by setbacks and defeat, and quietly slink back to their comfort zones. Professional performers, on the other hand, know that large scale success is based on a series of comebacks. In fact, they believe that setbacks are setups for comebacks. Everyone was so quick to close the book on Tiger Woods after his extramarital affairs became public knowledge, and then again once he fell out of the top 50. It was only a matter of time however, before one of the greatest comebacks in golf history was written. Woods has won his share of regular tour events, and now he's finally ready for his next major championship.
Tiger Woods is a product of his own imagination
While average performers think of imagination as child's play, the world class relies on it as a mental preview of things to come. Before champions make a move, they have lived out the scenario through imagination. Imagination is the first step to the perfect house, the perfect life and in the case of Tiger Woods, the next major championship. The average person might think that an athlete like Tiger Woods spends most of his time on the driving range and putting green, but the reality is world-class athletes spend hours sharpening their mental game. Woods' preparation for Oak Hill is certainly physical in nature, but mentally I would place any bet that he's gone through shot-by-shot and hole-by-hole and clearly defined how he's going to close the deal. And something else about performers at Tiger Woods' level: he already has the winning number in his head of what it's going to take to walk away with the victory. The intensity and clarity at the world-class level is that laser-focused.
Athletes like Tiger Woods have the ability to recreate success no matter what the challenges, and anything less than a PGA Championship victory will be seen as failure by the Tiger. He's ready; it's time; and it's going to be one heck of a show on Sunday afternoon.