Sport Golf

Thursday 23 March 2017

Tiger can strike out of the Blue

Karl MacGinty at Doral

The wreckage of a television tower that was blown down by a heavy storm during the first round play of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster in Florida yesterday. Photo: Reuters
The wreckage of a television tower that was blown down by a heavy storm during the first round play of the WGC-Cadillac Championship at the TPC Blue Monster in Florida yesterday. Photo: Reuters

Funny the things you'll overhear in a crowded clubhouse during a storm delay.

"Bet you $100 Tiger shoots less than 65 today," said one chap as we whiled away some two hours and 50 minutes at the Doral Resort yesterday waiting for a violent electrical storm to pass.

It's a measure of how far Tiger's star has fallen in the past 15 months that a few of his pals immediately went for their wallets.

Yet before anyone took the wager, our friend guffawed out loud and added: "Sixty-five shouldn't be too hard for Tiger ... sure with delay, he'll do well to get in 15 holes before dark."

The air over this week's Cadillac World Championship has been crackling with controversy as Tiger's former coach Hank Haney and current swing guru Sean Foley fired potshots at each other in the media.

Toronto native Foley certainly would not have endeared himself to Haney with his bold assertion in a magazine interview that "there was nothing about what he (Woods) was doing in his previous swing that made any sense to me".

Foley must have been stung by a barb from Haney after the struggling Tiger was knocked out in the first round of the recent Accenture Match Play by Thomas Bjorn.

"For all the talk of Tiger's poor driving for the past six years, I've never seen him drive it out of play with a match or tournament on the line," Haney tweeted, referring to the errant tee shot on 19 which handed victory to Bjorn after Woods had brilliantly extended the match and seized the initiative on 18.

In recent days, Haney has been re-tweeting a plethora of disparaging messages about Foley from fans.

Lessons

One typical example inquired: "Would you rather take lessons from Sean Foley, Axel Foley or (wrestler) Mick Foley?" which brought the reply: "Axel Foley, I loved Beverly Hills Cop!"

Tiger has not won in 19 tournaments, the longest drought of his career, as he grapples for consistency since asking 'stack and tilt' disciple Foley to assist him with his third swing change as a professional.

Yet that capitulation at the Match Play in Tucson struck a particular chord with many observers.

TV pundit and former US Open champion Johnny Miller said he'd never seen Woods looking as lost, comparing his situation to that of 'Iron' Mike Tyson in 1990 after the heavyweight boxing champion's aura of invincibility had been shattered by Buster Douglas in Japan.

While there were gasps of surprise when Rory McIlroy forthrightly suggested that Woods is performing like an "ordinary player", the young Holywood man merely put into words what many of Tiger's colleagues on Tour believe.

Yet few doubt that Woods eventually will get back to winning ways. Though unlikely ever to dominate professional golf as he did in 2000 and 2001 when, uniquely, Tiger had all four Major trophies on his sideboard, he'll probably exceed the record 18 won by Jack Nicklaus. The man himself this week said he expected Tiger to beat his haul, for which Woods was truly grateful, saying: "It's nice for Jack to say something like that ... it is very humbling."

To the untutored eye, Woods appeared to be striking the ball sweetly on the range at Doral yesterday ... but bringing it on to the course has been a different matter, while his confidence with the putter has also been undermined.

And confidence is the key according to Lee Trevino, who said: "Once Tiger gets his head on straight, he's going to be fine. He thinks it's his game and his swing, and it's not.

"He needs to stop jumping around with instructors. He needs to go back and look at his swing when he won four straight Majors and figure it out," added the Texas icon. "He's looking for a genie in a bottle, but the answer is in the ground. He needs to go back to basics."

As for Woods' off-course troubles, Trevino expressed compassion, though noted they were self-inflicted.

"He got beat up pretty bad. I bet if Tiger had it to do all over again, he would have sat on the grass that day (at his house), called a press conference and gotten it all over with in one day. Instead, he ran from it.

"It cut him deep. He basically knows that a good portion of people out there watching him are saying something bad under their breath."

Mother Nature certainly outdid the verbal storm over Tiger yesterday as 52mph winds howled across the course felling 17 trees, two TV towers and the giant scoreboard overlooking 18.

Woods, Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell were heading from the range to the tee when the storm swept in. Once he teed it up, Tiger played untidily, missing too many fairways, greens and, most frustrating of all, putts as he completed 15 holes in one-under before darkness fell.

Bogeys on five and six, his final two holes before dusk, left McDowell level with Woods on one-under. They were one shot behind Mickelson and six behind leader Hunter Mahan, who played his first 11 in a sizzling seven-under. Rory McIlroy showed no ill-effects after dropping a 50lbs dumbbell on the big toe of his right foot on Wednesday. With three to play in his first round this morning, he was on four-under, one ahead of Padraig Harrington, whose short game and putting were sublime on the 13 holes he played.

WGC Cadillac Championship,

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