Thursday 22 February 2018

Tiger emerges again to be master of his own destiny

Only the foolish will write off Woods now, says Dermot Gilleece

For more than two years, golf commentators appear to have been obsessed with delivering the definitive historical verdict on Tiger Woods.

It was as if huge importance would attach to being the one who predicted precisely how his career eventually worked out, specifically with regard to breaking Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 Major championships.

My contribution came in these columns last December when I wrote that having witnessed him capture his first Major, "it strikes me that I may also have seen him win his last". This was prompted by news of a bulging disc in his neck, followed by Hank Haney's resignation as his swing coach.

It's possible my suspicion of seven months ago may still be proved correct, but the odds against are shortening with every week. And a third tournament win this year, in the AT&T National last Sunday, has sharpened expectations of the gap with Nicklaus closing as early as Royal Lytham later this month.

In a sense, it could mean history repeating itself from a golf-writing perspective. It certainly revives memories of the 1986 US Masters when Tom McCollister, in his preview for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, made the bold prediction: "Nicklaus is gone, done. He just doesn't have the game anymore. It's rusted from lack of use". McCollister then added: "He's 46, and nobody that old wins the Masters."

When the Bear and his wife Barbara arrived at the house they rented for the week near Augusta National, they discovered that a friend, Tom Montgomery, had taped McCollister's article to the fridge door. The intention was to tease Nicklaus or possibly light a fire under him. In the event, the article was left there for the duration of the event and the great man went on to win an improbable sixth Masters title.

In the wake of last Sunday's triumph, Woods remarked with obvious relish: "I remember a time when people were saying I couldn't win again. That was six months ago, and here we are."

A few days later, it was announced he will be in an eight-player line-up for the multi-million-dollar Turkish Airlines World Golf Finals to be held in October as part of Turkey's bid to stage the 2020 Olympic Games. And it is clear that even in the presence of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, the top three players in the current world rankings, Woods will be the star attraction, a point emphasised by the fact that he is to receive an extra fee.

Reflecting on the not-too-distant past, we seemed to have no difficulty in predicting the decline and eventual competitive demise of such leading practitioners as Seve Ballesteros and Nick Faldo. But it appears that the really exceptional ones, like Nicklaus and Woods, defy normal analysis. Which in a way defines their greatness.

Meanwhile, Woods looks certain to amass $100 million in career earnings on the PGA Tour, before the year is out. This is more than 10 times the $9.6 million earned by Greg Norman, who was the all-time record-holder when Woods joined the Tour in 1996. Now, PGA Tour career-money leaders are: 1 Woods $99m; 2 Vijay Singh $66.4m; 3 Phil Mickelson $66.3m and 4 Jim Furyk $51.1m. The American website,

Numbers Game, also highlights how the growth of prize funds and annual earnings on the PGA Tour have mirrored Woods's career. For

instance, he has actually surpassed Norman's lifetime $9.6m in each of four seasons on Tour -- 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009. And in 1996, Tom Lehman led the Tour's earnings with $1.78m, whereas 25 players have already made more than that this year with nearly half the season remaining.

The gap with Nicklaus is especially stark. Where the Bear made $5.74m on the PGA Tour over a period of 43 years from 1962 to 2004, Woods has amassed $4.2m already this year. And where no player had ever surpassed $2m in a single season on the PGA Tour prior to the Woods breakthrough in 1997, a record 38 players made at least $2m in 2009.

All of which suggests that commentators might do better to allow Woods decide his own place in history. Which is certain to be remarkable, whatever the future may hold.

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