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April 7 - Inside the Big Four's Heads

The Gang of Four played more like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight two weeks ago at The Players
Championship.  And I’m not talking about the movie which featured the late Jerry Orbach.  

Phil Mickelson (2 over par) , Tiger Woods (5 over par), Ernie Els (3 under) and Vijay Singh (4 under)
finished what is considered by many to be golf’s fifth major tournament at a combined even par which
was nine shots worse that the winner Fred Funk.  

So when the Gang of Four, also known as the Big Four, does live up to the hype is that bad for golf?

“The four majors can withstand that problem.  They have history, great courses, a lot of money and the
best fields,” said Sports Psychologist Tom Ferraro, who is based in Williston Park, New York and has
worked with several professional golfers.  “But other tournaments really have difficulty when he (Woods)
is not playing up to par or god forbid he is not there.  And I think the other three are add ons to that
problem.”  

Ernie Els is the only one in the group that can not attend the Traditional Champions Dinner.  He owns
three majors: the 1994 and 1997 U.S. Open Championships plus the British Open Title in 2002.  But he
lacks the green jacket, which would give him a spot at the table, and another sportscoat for him to wear.  
Throw in the fact that the man nicknamed “The Big Easy” finished second last year to Phil Mickelson and
the pressure could be on him more than any other player in the field.

“He maybe under specific pressure because he has not won this event.  Especially if he has to deal with
those kinds of questions from the media,” said Dr. Ferraro.

As for the aforementioned Mickelson, check out these numbers.  His 18-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole
for the victory in 2004 gave him his first major win of his career and placed him in select company.  Lefty
joins Arnold Palmer, Sandy Lyle and Mark O'Meara as the only players to capture the tournament with a
birdie on that 72nd hole.  Mickelson birdied five of the last seven holes in the final round to pass Els.  He
has finished in the top 10 at the Masters eight times in 12 appearances in his career and has placed
third four times.  Mickelson has finished no worse than seventh the last six years and that could mean
he could join Tiger Woods, Nick Faldo and Jack Nicklaus as the only players to win back to back
Masters.

“There maybe is a little less pressure.  It is very difficult to be a defending champ,” said Dr. Ferraro.  “Yet
his game is suited for the Masters because he hits it high and long and can dominate that golf course.”

Then there is Tiger Woods.  He transcends the game of golf.  Earlier this season he was tearing it up
winning twice in his first five starts.  Tiger, who is just 29 years old, proved he can still win tournaments.  
He has captured an astounding 57 tournaments in his career with 42 of those coming on the PGA
TOUR.  

But there were still doubters at the beginning of the season, including Dr. Ferraro. “He was in a major
slump for two years and nine months.  This year ‘The Master’ has returned from hibernation.  He was
extremely burnt out it was inevitable.”

Now that he is back,Tiger, who has won this tournament three times, is in position to join Nicklaus and
Arnold Palmer as the only golfers to win four green jackets.

Vijay Singh is the one golfer that people seem to love or hate.  Love him for his work ethic and hate him
for his demeanor.  You can always find him on the range smacking golf balls when everyone else has
gone home.  Singh won the event in 2000 and has finished in the top 7 in each of the last three years.  
So why is he the one person in the big four that does not evoke the passion of the golf fans when
he is on the course?  

“It’s a combination of things,” said Dr. Ferraro.  “Kind of dour, sour, uninteresting personality. Flat, can’t
connect to him.  The reputation is he’s nasty.”

What will be nasty are the greens and which ever of The Big Four masters them, could come out on top
Sunday night.