Monday 9 December 2019

Mark Garrod: Tigers Woods victory whets appetite for season ahead

Tiger Woods holds the trophy after winning the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, California. Photo: Reuters
Tiger Woods holds the trophy after winning the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, California. Photo: Reuters

IT took Jack Nicklaus more than 450 PGA Tour events to clock up his 73 victories, starting with the US Open in 1962 and ending with the 1986 Masters.

When Tiger Woods made the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines his 75th win as a member of the circuit on Monday it came in only his 280th start.

Woods is in a league of his own when it comes to strike-rate. World number one Rory McIlroy, for instance, has six titles to his name in America already, but they have still taken the 23-year-old 54 tournaments - one for every nine times he has played, in other words.

Over a period of more than 16 years now on his home tour, Woods has tasted success nearly 27% of the time and when it comes to European Tour events his record is a phenomenal 38 wins in 118 starts. Almost one in three.

What his latest triumph has done, of course, is whet the appetite even more for the season ahead and, in particular, the majors ahead.

Even with a scrappy finish from Woods, the gauntlet has been thrown down to McIlroy, who on the evidence of his missed cut in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago clearly has a lot of work to do with his new Nike clubs.

Woods made an early exit there too, but only because of the two-stroke penalty he received for taking a wrong drop early in his second round.

"I'm excited about what I was able to do last year and win three times coming from where I came from," the 37-year-old American said.

"I just made a mistake on the rules (in Abu Dhabi) and that's why I didn't play the weekend, but I did some really good things there.

"I felt like I could just build on that, which I did, and my short game has come around again."

A return to Torrey Pines could not have come at a better time. He is now a seven-time winner of the tournament and it was also the scene of his last major triumph.

Woods has been stuck on 14 since that 2008 US Open and that leaves him still four behind Nicklaus in what will always be the most important statistic to him and all golf followers.

Even regaining the world number one spot following his slump to 58th just 14 months ago does not rank anywhere near as highly in his own mind.

He views that as a consequence rather than a goal in itself.

"I would like to just win golf tournaments," he told Press Association Sport in Abu Dhabi. "The rankings take care of themselves by winning.

"It's about winning and being consistent. I think that over the course of my career I've done a pretty good job of that and would certainly like to continue doing that."

Asked again on Monday night he gave the same answer and added: "That's how I got there in the first place. That's how he (McIlroy) got there."

Yet anyone who just watched the closing stretch from San Diego will be wondering how he was so far clear.

Woods bogeyed the 14th and 17th and double-bogeyed the 15th after an awful drive, but he had so many shots in hand that he still won by four, and the painfully slow pace of play clearly did not help.

"I started losing my patience out there. It was just so friggin' slow. We played just over three hours for nine holes and three of them are par threes," he complained.

Nothing, though, was going to stop Woods from making it 50 times out of 54 on the PGA Tour that he has converted at least a share of the 54-hole lead into a victory.

Worldwide just five players have come from behind on the final day to beat him - Ed Fiori, Thomas Bjorn, Lee Westwood, Graeme McDowell and, most famously, YE Yang at the 2009 USPGA.

Totally overshadowed by Woods in the final two rounds were his playing partners Casey Wittenberg and Billy Horschel.

They finished 15th and 39th respectively and while they may have been new names to many viewers, McIlroy knows all about Horschel.

He is the 26-year-old the Northern Irishman played against in three of his four matches at the 2007 Walker Cup.

Horschel won the first two, but McIlroy got the better of him on the final green of the concluding singles and did not hide how sweet it was.

"His antics were really p****** me off," McIlroy said in a subsequent interview. "For example, he had hit a bunker shot at the 14th in our morning foursome. It was a great shot and finished inches from the cup, but he came running down the hill hollering at the top of his voice.

"He was so loud and so obnoxious. That outburst was probably the worst thing he could have done.

"In the second singles I set out to be as loud as he was. On the first I holed for an eagle and when the ball went in I gave it the loudest 'Come on' you've ever heard. I think he got the point."

Another star of that Britain and Ireland side was Welshman Rhys Davies, but his professional career has not followed the same glittering path as McIlroy.

Having lost his European Tour card last season, Davies is in India this week at the Gujarat Kensville Challenge, first event of the European Challenge Tour season.

American Rich Beem is also there, not quite what he had in mind either after he pushed Woods into second place at the 2002 USPGA Championship.

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