MIAMI – In less steady hands, the sequence held the potential to set off a trail of sparks. Or worse.
Victimized by a chip-in that cut his lead to 3-up at last month’s WGC Match Play final, Geoff Ogilvy quickly became engaged in a tiff with a cholla cactus for possession of his golf ball.
Finally conceding the unplayable lie, the Aussie went back to find a clearing in the Arizona desert to drop another. His next swing came down short of the green.
A turning point? Indeed – but in Ogilvy’s favor when he chipped in himself to restore his edge in what became a 4-and-3 triumph over Paul Casey.
“What’s tough about Geoff is that he doesn’t change,” Casey marveled afterward. “His demeanor doesn’t waver, which is a huge attribute.”
Nor did Ogilvy flinch at last year’s WGC-CA Championship, where he became the man to break up Tiger Woods’ perfect season with a wire-to-wire victory on Doral’s Blue Monster.
Fast rising among the game’s elite, Ogilvy returns to South Florida with three wins in his past seven starts worldwide. His world ranking is a career-best No. 4.
And at least one cohort suggests Ogilvy – not Woods – might be best equipped to wear Masters green 4 1/2 weeks from now.
“Tiger is always going to be a favorite,” Robert Allenby said last week, “but I would put Geoff Ogilvy in front of Tiger.
“If Geoff controls his nerves and his feelings at that tournament, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t win.”
High expectations indeed. Just don’t ask Ogilvy to chime in on the subject.
“I think I’m a pretty decent player,” he deadpanned.
Then again, maybe Allenby’s take isn’t outrageous when it comes to someone who seems to bring his best to the bigger stage.
Of Ogilvy’s six PGA Tour wins, five have come in upper-tier events. His three World Golf Championships trophies are more than anyone except Woods, and Ogilvy is the current titleholder in two.
Ogilvy also went wire-to-wire in January’s season opener for 2008’s PGA Tour winners. Don’t overlook the 2006 U.S. Open, where his birdie-par finish avoided the Winged Foot pileup that claimed Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Colin Montgomerie.
“I don’t know. I just enjoy big tournaments,” Ogilvy said. “I enjoy the big situations.
“All that craziness around a tournament, I can take or leave. But the pressure situations toward the end of tournaments, I really enjoy those.”
Soft-spoken and thoughtful, Ogilvy has long been known by insiders as one of the tour’s most articulate blokes. But it took several years for that persona to reach the course, where he nearly choked on his own self-criticism.
“A reformed animal,” Allenby said.
Onset of negativity
Perfectionism has a tendency to run high among elite golfers, in a game where few shots are ever perfect. That brings on negativity, and how a golfer deals with it often holds the key.
Woods masterfully uses anger as a motivator, kicking himself into gear. But for Ogilvy it more often led to a defeatist outlook.
“Being negative on a golf course is a habit,” Ogilvy said. “You hit a shot and complain about it, and that’s just the way you play golf.”
It wound up holding back Ogilvy’s talent, something that Allenby noticed years ago.
“I always said to him, ‘The day you stop beating yourself up, you’ll be one of the greatest golfers in the world,’ ” Allenby said. “And look – about three years ago, he stopped beating himself up.”
The wins starting coming soon thereafter – his breakthrough in Tucson in 2005, the WGC Match Play and U.S. Open in 2006, last year on the Blue Monster.
“Obviously a really nice week at Doral, for lots of reasons,” Ogilvy said. “Mostly because everyone had decided that Tiger was going to win every tournament last year.”
Woods came to Doral bearing a seven-event winning streak, including 4 for 4 to start 2008. But Ogilvy opened with a 7-under-par 65 and made Woods chase from the outset.
When storms held up play on Saturday and Sunday, Ogilvy didn’t get antsy. He wound up winning by four.
A year later, there may be no hotter player.
“There were periods in the past where I knew I was a better player than my results were suggesting,” Ogilvy said. “Right now, I think I’m achieving quite well.”