NAPA, Calif. — In his own words, Johnny Miller doesn’t think he has lost his marbles. Not all of them, anyway.
And there’s a big part of him that wants to see if Tiger Woods can find his game.
Miller was the first person who dared to mention the “C” word (choke) in a golf telecast. As he finished his 25th year as the lead analyst for NBC Sports, he began thinking about the “R” word — retirement.
It didn’t help that NBC lost the U.S. Open when the USGA couldn’t refuse an offer from Fox that topped $1 billion. Miller also has a history of leaving on his own terms. He started scaling back his playing career in his early 40s.
“I was thinking I’m 67. I’m getting up there,” Miller said over the weekend at Silverado, where he was the unofficial host at the Frys.com Open. “I didn’t know how my marbles were going to be at that time. So far, I haven’t lost too many. I’ll be the first guy to quit this if I start losing it.”
Instead, he extended his deal with NBC Sport through at least 2017, with an option for another year.
That would end a year before the U.S. Open returns to Pebble Beach for the sixth time, and part of Miller wonders if there’s a chance he can play some role on TV. It’s bad enough not to be calling the shots at a U.S. Open, even worse when it’s in Northern California, the roots of his Hall of Fame career.
“That would be tough to watch Pebble or Olympic Club and not be able to cover it,” Miller said, pausing to smile before adding, “For me. Maybe not for other people.”
Miller has annoyed plenty of people — mostly players — during his 25 years in the booth.
That list includes Woods.
It’s nothing personal. It rarely is with Miller.
“The nice part about my career is I started covering him at the U.S. Amateur, and I was going to the national junior (U.S. Junior Amateur) when my sons were in it,” he said. “So I’ve covered pretty much his whole career.”
Miller was never more prescient than in a book he wrote 10 years ago, “I Call The Shots.” In debating both sides of whether Woods (who had eight majors in 2004) could surpass the 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus, he wrote that Woods was an old 28 as a child prodigy and “I have a feeling Tiger is dead in his prime right now, and that it won’t be long before the hole shrinks back to its regulation 4 1/4-inch size.”
“Like everybody else,” Miller wrote, “he’s slowly accumulating bits of scar tissue from small disappointments and putts that burn the edge of the hole and don’t fall. I’m lukewarm on the prospect of another stretch of play like he experienced in winning the Tiger Slam.”
Woods has been stuck on 14 majors since 2008, though Miller was slightly off on his timing.
A year after the book came out, Woods went on an incomparable tear until his reconstructive knee surgery in 2008. He won six majors (a career Grand Slam in 14 majors), was runner-up four times and only twice finished out of the top four.
Winning majors has been tough on Woods since the implosion in his personal life, followed by a variety of leg and back injuries. Woods has missed 25 percent of the majors dating to 2011.
“I knew he’d have a down time, sort of like I did in ‘78,” Miller said. “His personal life tumbled in. He lost a lot of mojo there, and then he’s had injuries on top of that. He had a lot happen in a short amount of time.”
He’s in an interesting place right now. I think he’s going to have a second career that will be pretty good. But he’s got to get it going pretty soon. I’m pulling for him big time.”
He wouldn’t be surprised if Woods were to win two majors next year. He wouldn’t be surprised if Woods went a seventh straight year without a major. Woods has never been more difficult to predict, especially with a talent pool in golf that is getting deeper every year.
Miller is intrigued by it all, which is not to suggest he finds this chapter in the Tiger Woods Era to be more interesting than when he was in his prime.
“It was a lot more fun when he was winning,” Miller said. “I don’t like to see him where he is. It’s one thing to tail off. He still thinks he’s young. He’s an old 38. I hope I’m wrong. But he’s been going hard at it since he was just out of diapers, sort of like I did. He should have some good golf left in him. We forget he won five times last year. That seems like a long time ago. He’s a real positive thinker — at least he is in front of you guys.”
Miller would love to see the last few years of Woods collide with the emergence of Rory McIlroy. And he hopes that it happens soon, so he can watch from a familiar place in the broadcast booth.
No doubt he will have something to say about it.