Tuesday 20 August 2019

Tiger's support cast lack sparkle to rival biggest and brightest star in town

Tiger Woods had plenty to smile about during his practice round at Augusta yesterday. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Tiger Woods had plenty to smile about during his practice round at Augusta yesterday. Photo: Andrew Redington/Getty Images
Vincent Hogan

Vincent Hogan

The man who made golf cool stops under the old oak for a fleeting, pre-planned Kodak moment with some of Fred Couples's friends that extends to precisely seven seconds.

It's a militaristic exercise, everybody in uniform keyed to the same, restless compulsion, delivered in a scraping Southern incantation to 'Get Tiger outta here!'

He smiles that beautiful smile, but is gone before expressions of gratitude can reach a single completed sentence. God's work isn't done here.

Behind him, Couples stops for a brief CBS TV interview.

"This to me is the most beautiful place in the world" says the '92 Masters champion.

"I hope to keep playing here, but if they keep making it any longer... I made the 'cut' last year and I was crippled!"

At 60, Couples is long past the day of sculpting a winning score in this place.

But 18 holes with Tiger and Justin Thomas on a Masters Monday is still something to make even a fading champion's blood flow quicker.

Hemmed

All morning, their three-ball was hemmed in by the kind of throng you'd get for an inauguration on Pennsylvania Avenue.

You could hear the commotion three fairways away.

Tiger is still golf's meal ticket. The guy who drew TV millions to the sport, making everybody around him rich, the one who stopped people seeing the game as middle-aged, stuffy.

The qualities that cloud him are irrelevant to those who stand outside the ropes, shouting hopeful banalities to a man who, at best, might meet such adoration with a barely perceptible touch of his cap.

Hard to believe it's 22 years since Woods won his first Green Jacket here with 12 shots to spare while sharing a house with several college friends, logging hours together playing the video game 'Mortal Kombat'.

A quarter of a century earlier, Lee Elder had become the first black player to play at the Masters, but it was Tiger who blew the old game asunder.

Since then, his life has been public property, so many books written about it depicting someone resolutely closed and mean-spirited.

Nobody in the history of sport has had their personalities so brutally de-constructed yet, as the extraordinary images of East Lake last September conveyed, the public adoration has - if anything - hardened.

His legacy, when he goes, will be a game of astonishing privilege and wealth, but one that has also spawned a culture of selfishness, privilege and borderline delinquency in some of its main participants.

When Sergio Garcia behaved like a truculent child in Saudi Arabia earlier this year, spitefully damaging five greens, the European Tour seemed to tip-toe away from the embarrassment, re-assuring us that Sergio had "apologised" and had promised his fellow players that he wouldn't do it again. But this isn't a European-centric issue.

Bryson DeChambeau's petulance resulted in a damaged green during the WGC-Mexico last month too, while Matt Kuchar's pathetic meanness towards stand-in caddy David Ortiz, after winning a cheque for $1.3 million (€1.15m) in Playa Del Carmen was followed up by that embarrassing match-play spat with Garcia, pre-empting the now seemingly de rigeur comedy video of reconciliation.

JB Holmes's excruciatingly slow pace of play when collecting $1.3m at the recent Genesis Open spoke too of an indifference towards spectators and fellow players that has also been levelled at the 'science geek' De Chambeau.

When that familiar charge was put to him yesterday, De Chambeau - who lists his interests outside golf as "physics, family, faith, fishing and cars" - responded with what amounted to an insistence that he usually walked to his ball faster than other players and, accordingly, could thus justify the 40 seconds or more he might take addressing it as distinct from his opponent's 25.

"There's a whole other piece to this puzzle!" he declared with an impressively straight face.

Watching people like Garcia, Kuchar, Holmes and DeChambeau close up, the public's devotion to Woods becomes less mystifying.

He mightn't give you the time of day, but Tiger's still a Rembrandt beside these house painters.

Irish Independent

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