Legends' true class puts Tiger to shame
Published 05/04/2011 | 05:00
Tiger Woods remembers precisely where he was the day Jack Nicklaus clinched the greatest victory of his career.
This week marks the 25th anniversary of arguably the most exciting Sunday in US Masters history in April 1986, when Nicklaus became the oldest winner at Augusta National.
Back then, it was considered improbable for a man of 46 to win a Major -- certainly the way Jack did it, compiling a sensational final-round 65 to eclipse Greg Norman and Tom Kite by one stroke and don the famous Green Jacket for a record sixth time.
Tiger, just 10 at the time, recalls "watching at home with my dad. We'd always go and play (golf) in the morning, then come back in the afternoon. At that time they'd show highlights of what the guys were doing around six or seven."
At that age, Tiger says he "didn't truly understand what the Masters was all about. The only memory I really have was the putt (he made) on 17 -- how the putter went up and, basically, he walked it into the hole. I'd not seen anyone walking (after) a putt like that and it stuck in my head."
As Woods prepares to take another key step down the road to redemption at this week's Masters, one wonders if future generations will be moved to remember his feats as fondly as those performed by Nicklaus and other genuine legends of the sport.
Tiger should return to winning ways at some point this summer and, no doubt, will eventually overhaul the record 18 Majors won by Nicklaus.
For sure, Tiger's failure to win any of the eight Majors he's played since the 2008 US Open has slowed his strike rate to the point where he and Nicklaus now are level-pegging with 14 Majors apiece by the age of 35.
Yet given the modern trend for golfers to remain competitive well into their late 40s, Woods will have many more realistic opportunities to win Majors than Nicklaus did. Advances in golf technology and modern physical conditioning ensure that tour professionals no longer expect, as Nicklaus admits he did, that the 40s were a time for the golfer to start exploring other avenues in life.
There's far more to golf, however, than packing the shelves of one's trophy cabinet, and unless Tiger makes a sea change in his attitude on and off the course, rather than simply talk about it, his legacy will be as empty, cheerless and cold as one of those toothy grins.
For example, on Sunday afternoon as Augusta National basked in glorious sunshine, another true legend, Tom Watson, was about to tee off at the first when he noticed the familiar face of a photographer standing nearby.
So he walked right over and embraced her warmly, asking how things were in her homeland. The photographer, covering her 12th Masters, hails from Japan and Watson's thoughtful gesture was typical of what one has come to expect from the majority of his fellow pros.
Contrast it with Tiger's decision to duck under the ropes at the ninth green moments later and cut across the first fairway in his bid to escape reporters seeking his views on the change to the seventh green and enquire why caddie Steve Williams wasn't with him on the course that afternoon.
Running is forbidden at Augusta, so off Woods walked at a brisk pace with a gaggle of reporters trying to make up ground, like a scene from the closing titles of the 'Benny Hill Show' (look it up on YouTube, kids). After ducking down a pathway to the front of the clubhouse, he leapt into a buggy, before signalling the driver to burn rubber.
That's Tiger for you. In contrast, his elders and betters, like Nicklaus or Player, Palmer or Watson, Seve, Els or Harrington, are almost invariably prepared to pause for a moment under the famous old oak tree at Augusta.
Meanwhile, when it comes to signing autographs, Phil Mickelson is king in a sport where good manners and appreciation of the public's support are the accepted norm. When did you ever see any of the above throw a golf club in anger or drop what US colleagues euphemistically call the F-bomb under stress ... Correct, never!
Technically, Tiger is the greatest player of all time, but when it comes to class and decorum, he falls abysmally short of the standards set by the true legends of golf.