Friday 19 January 2018

Padraig flying high as Tiger dives for cover

Tiger Woods grimaces as he plays a shot during last week's tournament at Torrey Pines
Tiger Woods grimaces as he plays a shot during last week's tournament at Torrey Pines

William S Callahan

THE master, Padraig Harrington, took the bragging rights, just, but this still was a day borrowed from paradise at Pebble Beach for his young playing companion Shane Lowry and their two amateur partners, JP McManus and Dermot Desmond, on day one at the AT&T National Pro-Am.

Harrington (43), who shared fifth place at the 2000 US Open here and has teamed up with McManus for the ninth straight year in this event, played with the aplomb of a three-time Major-winner during an assured first round of four-under-par 68.

This was one better than the 69 shot by Pebble Beach first-timer Lowry (27), who heavily underscored his current form and confidence last Sunday when he marked his first tournament as an associate member of the US Tour with an impressive share of seventh place in The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.

If Harrington missed the cut in San Diego and on his 2015 debut in Phoenix the previous week, his form yesterday harked back to his long-awaited first victory in more than four years at the Indonesian Open in Jakarta.

Harrington and Lowry both certainly enjoyed the unseasonal 77 degrees heat and warm Irish banter with their respective partners.

Business mogul Desmond, playing off 12, marked a splendid day with a nett eagle at the talismanic par-five 18th to round off a high-flying 63 with his partner Lowry.

Though Dubliner Harrington's six foot putt for his sixth birdie of the day horseshoed-out at the last, his golf certainly gave him plenty of reason for good cheer as he ambled to within four of early clubhouse leader JB Holmes. The American, beaten by Jason Day in last Sunday's play-off, shot a superb 64 at Pebble.

As Lowry and Harrington marched off the first tee at Pebble Beach, most golf folk were still digesting their breakfast and the latest news of Tiger Woods.

Tiger's decision to take an indefinite break from golf to get his game into order makes eminent sense. Even if lower back spasms (or non-firing glutes, if you accept his version of last Thursday's events) are responding so well to physio, Woods didn't attend the doctor and plans to resume practice next week.

As he explained on his own website, "my play and scores are not acceptable for tournament golf". Remembering how PGA National chewed up and spat out off-colour Rory McIlroy on Friday at the 2013 Honda Classic, it's not the place to go for a struggling Tiger the week after next.

Assuming he hopes to play April's Masters, Tiger's ideal warm-up would be at the Arnie Palmer Invitational from March 19-22.

Bay Hill is no pushover but he has won there eight times, so it'll give Woods good measure of his game, not to mention five clear weeks to work on technical issues in his swing, not least the chip-yips which helped turn his three most recent appearances - at his own Hero World Challenge in December, the Phoenix Open a fortnight ago and last week's 11-hole debacle at Torrey Pines - into a waking nightmare. That those issues patently were not resolved in 53 days between the Hero and his return to Tour action at Phoenix doesn't augur well for Tiger.

If his chipping remains so horribly poor after hitting the "thousands upon thousands upon thousands" of chips Woods said he did over the winter, this problem is not going away any time soon!

Of course, that's if he actually hit all those chips. As Tiger himself explains on his website: "Right now I need a lot of work on my game and to still spend time with the people that are important to me."

So the days are gone when golf was his first priority and, as the father of two young children, rightly so.

Even setting aside genuine concern for the ability of Tiger's aching lower spine to withstand the full torque of his swing, he's plainly no longer willing to give single-minded devotion to the sport when it requires it most.

It'd be foolish to say, at 39, Woods won't win again, even at the Majors. Yet his life has moved on, consigning the rampant Tiger of old to history!

BIRTHDAY

Michael Hoey's 36th birthday wishes came true a day early at the True Thailand Classic yesterday as a scintillating course-record 64 at Black Mountain thrust him into a one-stroke lead and offset any qualms the Shandon Park hero might have about Friday the 13th.

Hoey hit all 18 greens in regulation as he posted his lowest score on the European Tour since January 2009 and failed to register a dropped shot for the first time in 29 rounds stretching back to last October's Portugal Masters.

"Bogey-free, no fives on the card and a course record, I'll take that," said the Ulsterman, plainly delighted.

Hoey was one ahead of David Lipsky of the US, Chien-yao Hung of Taipei and Spain's Carlos Pigem overnight.

Miguel Angel Jimenez was two further back in an eight-way tie for sixth after a 67 that featured an eagle two at the 474-yard ninth, where the 51-year-old holed out from the fairway!

Damien McGrane was 115th after a frustrating 74 that included 16 pars and two bogeys.

True Thailand Classic

Live, Sky Sports 4, 6.00am

AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am,

Live, Sky Sports 4, 8.00pm

Irish Independent

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