Slumpdog millionaires: Golfers in a slump
Published 30/12/2011 | 05:00
FOR every Luke Donald and Rory McIlroy hitting the high notes in the world of golf there's a slump dogging some of the sport's most famous multi-millionaires -- and that's no fun at all.
Truly this game giveth and then taketh away. Once the magic fades and the golf ball no longer obeys the wishes of its owner, it sets up a chain reaction that can result in a seemingly unstoppable meltdown.
All golfers, particularly professionals, are destined to suffer a drop in form at some point.
The big problems arise when what started as a blip, then evolved into a run of bad luck and then a bad year, transmutes into a downward spiral that seems irreversible.
Of course, it's all relative. They said that Jack Nicklaus was in a slump when he didn't win a Major championship between his US Open victory in 1967 and the 1970 British Open victory in St Andrews after that famous play-off with Doug Sanders.
Nicklaus still remained a contender in most of the 12 Majors staged between those victories, including two second-place finishes (British Open '68 to Roberto di Vicenzo, US Open '68 to Lee Trevino) and tied-third in the 1967 US PGA won by Don January.
The Golden Bear had another 'slump' lasting 10 Majors between his 1975 US PGA Championship triumph and the 1978 British Open, again ending his relatively barren spell on the Old Course at St Andrews.
And just as he had done previously, Nicklaus' formidable presence was to the fore on Major championship leaderboards during his relatively long wait to once again grace the winner's rostrum.
He finished second to Tom Watson in the '77 Masters and the '77 'Duel in the Sun' at Turnberry in the British Open, and joint second in the Open at Royal Birkdale in '76 when Johnny Miller claimed the Claret Jug.
He also came joint third behind Ray Floyd at the Masters in '76, and third on his own to Lanny Wadkins in the US PGA of '77.
In total, for those two periods that gave rise to regular and pretty intense 'when will Jack ever win a Major again?' speculation, Nicklaus was a top-10 finisher 16 times out of those 22 Majors.
The uber-competitor that Jack was kept him performing to a high level, but not to the highest standards he felt he could achieve.
Eventually the death of his beloved father, Charlie, at the age of 56 in February 1970, jolted Nicklaus into the realisation he had allowed himself to become subtly complacent, relying more on talent than on focused practice and thoroughness in preparation.
The rest is history. The Bear remains the record Major winner with 18 titles -- his nearest challenger, Tiger Woods, is becalmed on 14, desperately hoping for a powerful wind to billow in his sails and re-launch his assault on Major titles.
Perhaps the recent win in the limited-field Chevron World Challenge is a harbinger of better times to come on the golf course for Tiger.
It will be fun to see him try, but for now, despite his face-saving rise back up the rankings, he is in our list of 2011 golfing millionaires who have tumbled from the high peaks to the Valley of the Doldrums.
And on the other end of the scale, 2011 has seen some huge moves forward by previously little-known players such as Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson. Funny old game, eh?
Five multi-millionaire golfers battling a slump
1 JOHN DALY
Career earnings: $12m (€9.2m). World ranking: 563. Career highest: 23 (2005).
Anyone who meets Daly finds the two-time Major-winner (1991 US PGA and 1995 British Open) a really good guy.
He's straight-talking, he supports charitable causes, but the addictions that have plagued him and injuries have eroded his golf game.
He is struggling for invitations and blotted his copy book in the Australian Open when he walked off after farcically hitting six balls into the lake and then claiming that he had simply run out of balls rather than quit.
The hosts were disgusted, and won't be inviting him again. He has given European Tour officials promises about his future conduct.
2 DAVID DUVAL
Career earnings: $18m (€14m). World ranking: 483. Career highest: 1 (1999).
The 2001 British Open champion and former world No 1 has been in decline since the early 2000s, mainly caused by injuries.
Failed to win his playing rights for 2012 on the PGA Tour at the recent Qualifying School but hopes to avail of invitations next year.
3 HENRIK STENSON
Career earnings: $18m (€14m). World ranking: 206. Career highest: 4 (2009).
Ten years ago Stenson was completely defeated by the game and embarked on a swing rebuilding campaign with coach Pete Cowen. Rehabilitated himself to a level where he was No 4 in the world in 2009, but two disastrous campaigns have the Swede down in the dumps again.
4 TIGER WOODS
Career earnings: $100m (€79m). World ranking: 23. Career highest: 1 (first time in 1997).
Dominated the top place until 2010 bar brief periods being replaced by David Duval, Ernie Els and Vijay Singh. He holds the record of most consecutive weeks (281) at No 1.
Victory in the elite 18-man field at the Chevron World Challenge in early December saved Tiger's blushes as he had dropped from No 2 at the end of 2010 to 52nd.
It was a confidence-booster for Woods but judgment will be reserved until we see how he plays in 2012 when young guns such as Rory McIlroy will not be fearful of the man who used to prowl the fairways with such menace.
5 PADRAIG HARRINGTON
Career earnings: $38m (€29.2m). World ranking: 85. Career highest: 3 (2008).
If Jack Nicklaus can go 12 Majors without a win, why can't Harrington surprise the world at Augusta in April?
Wishful thinking perhaps, but it's premature to give up on the star of Stackstown just yet even though his form this year -- despite many changes to his swing -- has been so frustrating.
Five miracle men who climbed from the depths
1 GARY WOODLAND
Career earnings: $3.9m (€2.96m). World ranking: 52. World ranking 12 months ago: 527 (+ 475).
Gary Who? He turned pro in 2007, and came through Q-School to get on the full PGA Tour in 2009, but suffered a shoulder problem that needed surgery.
He played 2010 on medical exemption, competing in some main Tour and some Nationwide events, then graduated from Q-School again in 2010.
His big breakthrough came this year in winning the Transitions Championship and then he teamed up with Matt Kuchar to win the World Cup for the USA.
2 KEEGAN BRADLEY
Career earnings: $4.1m (€3.15m). World ranking: 31. World ranking 12 months ago: 329 (+298).
The luck of the Irish has rubbed off on the 25-year-old, whose aunt is LPGA legend Pat Bradley, whose grandparents came from Cork.
Keegan visited Ireland when he was eight and would love to come here and play the Irish Open.
He turned pro in 2008, starting out on the Hooters Tour. He got on the PGA Tour by finishing 14th in the Nationwide Tour rankings in 2010, then enjoyed a sensational rookie season, winning the Byron Nelson Championship and then the US PGA in his Majors debut.
3 WEBB SIMPSON
Career earnings: $8.8m (€6.8m). World ranking: 10. World ranking 12 months ago: 213 (+203).
The 26-year-old played in the 2007 Walker Cup won by the USA at Royal Co Down before turning pro in '08, winning his Tour card at Q-School at the end of that year.
He retained his card in '09 and 2010 and then everything lit up for him this year with victories in the Wyndham Championship and the Deutsche Bank Championship.
He was No 1 in the PGA money list with one tournament to go, but was overtaken by Luke Donald in the final event as the Englishman lived up to his 'ATM' moniker to top the money-lists on both sides of the Atlantic. Simpson also helped the USA win the President's Cup.
4 AARON BADDELEY
Career earnings: $15m (€11.52m). World ranking: 46. World ranking 12 months ago: 274 (+ 228).
Born in America before moving to Australia at the age of two, Baddeley caused a sensation by winning the Australian Open title as an 18-year-old amateur in 1999.
He was the youngest winner of the championship and the first amateur to win this event since Bruce Devlin in 1960. He turned pro in 2000 and repeated his Australian Open win that year.
Baddeley played the Nationwide Tour in 2002 and won his full card for '03 via a 10th place in the Nationwide rankings.
His first PGA Tour win was the 2006 Verizon Heritage and he then went on to win the FBR Open in '07.
However, he endured a loss of form and was forced to wait until 2011 for his third victory, at the Northern Trust Open.
He was one of Greg Norman's wild card picks for Australia's recent unsuccessful bid for the President's Cup.
5 THOMAS BJORN
Career earnings: $17.5m (€13.4m). World ranking: 36. World ranking 12 months ago: 124 (+88).
The Great Dane has won nine times on the European Tour, including the 2006 Nissan Irish Open.
Bjorn was the first Danish player selected for the Ryder Cup (1997). Now 40, he turned pro in 1993, and won his card via the Challenge Tour for the 1996 season.
He won the Loch Lomond World Invitational, his first victory, in his rookie season, then endured that horrible bunker disaster on the 16th at Royal St George's in 2003 that cost him the British Open.
He is also remembered for his brutal 11 shots on the 17th in the Smurfit European Open at the K Club in 2005.
Bjorn had been overnight leader but shot a final-round 86 and finished ninth, when Kenneth Ferrie of England was a surprise winner.
Bjorn bounced back this year with a surprise victory at the Qatar Masters and, to prove that was no fluke, he also won the Johnnie Walker Championship at Gleneagles and the European Masters.