Sport Golf

Saturday 25 February 2017

Tiger's 'raura' is shot

Doral's diluted response shows Woods' battle for hearts and minds is far from won

Karl McGinty

Tiger Woods Photo: Getty Images
Tiger Woods Photo: Getty Images

Tiger's fall from grace has had one satisfying spin-off - the extinction of the irritating sub-species 'You-Da-Man'.

The cry of this peculiar beast was not heard anywhere around the fairways at Doral during last weekend's Cadillac World Championship.

His near-cousin, 'In-De-Hole', arose a couple of times as Woods stirred ghostly echoes of former glories with his closing 66 on the Blue Monster. Yet 'You-Da-Man' plainly has gone the way of Tigermania.

So keenly does golf yearn for the return of its erstwhile prince from purgatory that last Sunday's effort was seized upon with evangelical zeal.

Woods had barely signed the card which propelled him into his first top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since last June's US Open when prophecies of a 15th Major victory at next month's US Masters began to fill the airwaves.

In the context of recent months, Tiger's performance on Sunday was impressive. Thomas Bjorn, paired with Woods in the final round at Doral, detected a marked improvement in the American's performance from last Month's Accenture Match Play.

At Dove Mountain, Woods self-destructed in stunning fashion on the 19th hole moments after forcing his first-round clash with the Dane into extra holes with a truly Tigeresque flourish.

"I've a hunch Augusta is coming at a very good time for him," said Bjorn.

Perhaps... but few of the several thousands who walked 18 holes on the dark side with Woods last Saturday would bet on it.

Tiger and Phil Mickelson drew a huge crowd early that morning.

For the third day, golf's two biggest stars played together, but with the galleries swelling to weekend proportions, Saturday inevitably offered a better cross-section of the US golf fans.

Significantly, perhaps, Mickelson, whose victory at last year's Masters warmed even the coldest hearts, received a far more vociferous welcome onto the first tee than Woods. Neither performed well enough to send spectators into paroxysms -- Woods posted a two-under-par 70 and Mickelson a 72, which he'd follow with a frustrating, ham-fisted 76 on Sunday.

Yet the loudest cheer on Saturday came when Mickelson pitched in from a greenside bunker at seven, while Tiger's finest moment arguably was at three, when he followed up a dreadful, chunked chip by holing out from the fringe for par.

On the few occasions Woods found a fairway, managed to make a decent putt or produce anything remotely above the ordinary, the applause was generous but reserved.

Even on Sunday, when a delighted Woods believed he "showed positive signs for the next time I play," the crowd's response was no more enthusiastic than that stirred by the impressive title-clinching efforts of his fellow American Nick Watney over the final few holes.

For Woods has become, in the words of Rory McIlroy, an "ordinary golfer". The days when galleries wildly embraced him or feted his power and majesty with the 'Tiger Roar' are gone.

Eventually, he'll win again, though it would require a mini-miracle for Woods to find the required consistency with his ailing driver to chalk up a seventh career victory at Bay Hill next week or to claim a fifth Green Jacket at Augusta National next month.

The hearts, minds and respect of the golfing public will not be won back so easily, however. Woods may one day win a record 19 Major titles but, judging by the atmosphere among the galleries at Doral, he's unlikely to stir the same warmth and affection as a Jack Nicklaus or Arnie Palmer. Where Tiger is concerned, an age of innocence has ended.

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