Thursday 22 March 2018

Tiger's lack of old killer instinct a Major worry

Tiger Woods of the U.S. Picture: Reuters/Jim Young.
Tiger Woods of the U.S. Picture: Reuters/Jim Young.
Tiger Woods congratulates winner Zach Johnson

Karl MacGinty

IT was a fittingly bizarre epilogue to a soap-opera year. Tiger Woods played the role of generous host to perfection. Maybe 'imperfection' would be more appropriate?

Woods gifted the title to Zach Johnson in the last Northwestern Mutual World Challenge to be played at Sherwood Country Club.

It was shocking to see the world No 1 hit successive approach shots into the front bunker at 18, then miss a crucial par putt of around 40 inches on the first tie hole.

Still, Tiger smiled like a Cheshire cat as he shook Johnson's hand and deserves credit for his graceful demeanour throughout the presentation ceremony.

Head south from Sherwood on the Ventura Freeway and in less than an hour you'll arrive in Hollywood, where many Oscars have been awarded for performances less convincing than this.

Woods was rarely far from centre stage in 2013, considering the five tournament victories which led peers to vote him PGA Tour 'Player of the Year' and not forgetting an unfortunate series of rules controversies which drew brickbats, mostly unfair.

Overall, a year of phenomenal highlights on the course has been marred by several high-profile disputes off it, not least the Commercial Court action between Rory McIlroy and his former management team at Horizon, which goes to trial next October.

For 11 months, there was a sense of the Greek tragedy about McIlroy's season as he grappled with new clubs and abject form, while his relationship with Caroline Wozniacki came under intense media speculation.

During his recent victory over Adam Scott at the Australian Open, however, McIlroy showed that his considerable talent, when combined with a measure of confidence, remains an irresistible mix.

While Vijay Singh is engaged in an ongoing legal battle with the PGA Tour arising from the farcical 'deer antler spray' episode, golf at least managed to resolve one potentially disastrous rift in a fractious year.

The US Tour and the PGA of America threatened to split the sport asunder and 'go it alone' early last summer when golf's legislative bodies, the USGA and R&A, announced that 'anchoring' long-putters would be banned from January 1, 2016.

Thankfully, this sabre-rattling by America's two professional behemoths came to nought.

The rule-makers called their bluff, both climbed down and catastrophe was averted.

The USGA also showed laudable resolve with their choice of Merion as venue for the US Open. Their decision to absorb a significant financial 'hit' by revisiting this historic, atmospheric venue yielded rich dividends aesthetically.

Dire warnings that Merion was too compact for a modern Major were unfounded, while Justin Rose emerged as the perfect champion, his superior play that week matched by his dignity.

When Rose's drive at 18 on Sunday landed close to the plaque commemorating Ben Hogan's iconic one-iron at the 1950 US Open, it was a spine-tingling moment.

When he turned his eyes towards heaven at the moment of victory, then spoke so movingly of his late father in his acceptance speech, Rose touched many hearts.

This was an occasion to treasure.

Unlike the USGA, who have vast financial reserves, the R&A relies so heavily on proceeds from the British Open to drive their worldwide development programmes, they're unlikely to gamble on a return to Royal Portrush.

Yet, as one wag suggested, the Open is still more likely to be played at Portrush than the US PGA. This is in spite of PGA of America president Ted Bishop's recent nomination of Portrush as his first choice of venue should the season's fourth Major move overseas, as proposed.

Bishop later admitted he has never been to Ireland -- he made a few visits to the Royal Portrush website.

This year will be best remembered, however, for astonishing shots, like the three-wood Phil Mickelson hit into the teeth of the wind at 17 on Sunday at Muirfield, uniquely making the green in two to help clinch a victory he thought he'd never achieve.

Mickelson's win at the Open was by far the outstanding single performance of 2013, while Masters champion Adam Scott's Sunday stand-off with Angel Cabrera at Augusta was the year's most compelling drama.

Still, last Sunday demise at Sherwood, albeit in an 18-man knees-up, may have long-term implications for Tiger.

Playing his first approach out of a difficult lie in the rough and caught between clubs for the second, Woods capably explained how he ended up in that front bunker on the final hole in regulation and again in the play-off.


He certainly didn't choke when Johnson followed his shank into the pond on the 72nd by holing out from the drop zone for an incredible par.

Both of Tiger's bunker shots were too well played to suggest he felt under undue pressure. Yet by missing a 40-inch par putt to extend the play-off, Woods showed how frail this formerly invulnerable element of his game has become. After blocking putts throughout the final round, he over-compensated on that short but tricky left-to-right slider.

Though Graeme McDowell beat Woods with great golf at the climax to this event in 2010, this time the world No 1 threw away the title.

Inevitably, it emphasised further his vulnerability at the weekend -- especially at the Majors.

At 37, Woods has played 64 Majors as a pro, winning 14, the same number as Jack Nicklaus at the same age. Yet as his streak without a win stretches to 18 over the past five years, one fears for Tiger's ability to seal the deal at the Majors. Maybe he's become a little too adept at losing.

Irish Independent

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