Sport Golf

Sunday 22 October 2017

McIlroy must take cue from Woods if he wants to break out of slump

Karl MacGinty

WITH one shot, Tiger Woods has proved to a doubting world that the flame still burns bright within. After 30 months in which he endured disgrace, humiliation, divorce, injury, infirmity and, latterly, the intense frustration of trying to bed-in a new swing, the rampant Tiger of old at last has returned.

The life-crises Woods has had to overcome since the crash of November 2009 certainly place Rory McIlroy's recent travails in context.

Sure, McIlroy (23) took his eye off the ball in recent months and his confidence suffered as he missed successive cuts at Sawgrass, Wentworth and Muirfield Village last Friday.

However, McIlroy's such a quick learner, this recent spell should represent little more than an irritating spike mark in the context of his career. As Tiger proved with that stroke of pure genius at the par-three 16th, sometimes all it takes is just one shot to put the world to rights.

In truth, Woods was smooth as vintage claret throughout Sunday's final round as he eased to a fifth career win at Memorial, picking off three birdies in the final four holes of his closing 67 to finish two ahead of Rory Sabbatini and Andres Romero. So commanding was his performance, on a course built by Jack Nicklaus to Major specifications, that Tiger is now a firm favourite to relieve McIlroy of his US Open crown next week on another strategic masterpiece, the Olympic Club in San Francisco.

At 36, Woods has equalled the 73 PGA Tour victories it took Nicklaus 10 years longer to accumulate and he still has time to hunt down Sam Snead's all-time record 82.

Yet confidence in his ability to beat Jack's 18 Majors was restored by that flash of magic at 16 on Sunday. When his eight-iron tee shot landed in a difficult lie in rough behind the green, Woods knew there was no room for error as he hit his second on to a glass-smooth putting surface which tilted down towards water.

Still, there wasn't a flicker of doubt as he executed the shot of his life, wafting his ball into the air with a full swing; holding the pose as it parachuted gently on to precisely the right spot on the green.

As the ball released and ran down towards the hole, the packed gallery murmured in anticipation. When it tumbled into the cup for birdie, they roared so loudly, Tiger's own primeval howls of delight were drowned out.

Four behind at start of play, Woods had joined the lead and looked unstoppable. He punctuated his ecstasy with such a vicious right uppercut, one made a mental note to stay well out of his way if things ever turned nasty.

Nicklaus, God bless him, was still excited well after the presentation ceremony. "Under the circumstances, I don't think I've ever seen a better shot," he enthused.

Gutsy

"Tiger's been struggling. He found himself in a position in the tournament to fish or cut bait. He'd one place to land his ball. If he leaves it short, he's going to lose the tournament. If he hits it long, he's going to lose the tournament. He lands that ball exactly where he has to. What an unbelievable, gutsy shot."

Woods celebrated last December's breakthrough win at the Chevron World Challenge with equal intensity, while he picked up his first post-hydrant official PGA Tour win at Arnie Palmer's Invitational in March.

Yet Sunday returned him to an entirely different plane in terms of technique and confidence. "Today was fun because I striped it from the word go," he said. "I played well that Sunday at Bay Hill but didn't quite have the control I did today. I was comfortable hitting it down but uncomfortable hitting it up.

"At Augusta, I wasn't able to hit the ball into the air comfortably and it showed," he added. "So I went to work on it with Sean (Foley, his coach) and finally got it.

"It came around here when I needed it. This is a high-ball golf course. You've got to get it up in the air and you've got to land it soft and I did that," said Woods, knowing the same quality will come in useful at Olympic.

Like Tiger, McIlroy hopes to find his turning point at Memphis this week. If not, the preparatory work he did over the weekend at Olympic should stand him in good stead at the US Open. All it takes is a flash of inspiration.

Irish Independent

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