Wednesday 22 November 2017

Woods in race against time to find form and save elite status

At 39, Tiger Woods is running out of time and credibility. Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images
At 39, Tiger Woods is running out of time and credibility. Photo: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Kevin Garside

There was no blood on the floor this time, at least not on the ski slope. Tiger Woods chose Beaver Creek in Colorado earlier this week over practice for the Farmers Insurance Open, which begins at Torrey Pines today.

Given he has finished last in each of his past two tournaments, the most recent a week ago in Phoenix, it was a surprise that Woods should elect to watch his partner Lindsey Vonn contesting the Super-G rather than hit balls on the range with the rest of the field.

At least it passed off without incident. No missing teeth and no skeleton mask to conceal his identity, though he might consider its deployment in California if there is no improvement in form.

Woods' nosedive since returning from surgery on his back led to him dropping out of the world top 50 for only the second time in his career. When he did pitch up for yesterday's Pro-Am, fog delayed the start of play, further hampering preparations.

Arrests

Unless he arrests the slide, he will miss the first elite field event of the year, the WGC-Cadillac in Miami next month. He insists the dip is temporary but that is not how it looked when he was knifing chip shots across the greens in Phoenix.

The contrast with Rory McIlroy could not be greater. The world No 1 can afford to ship some £20m in a court settlement and still come out smiling.

McIlroy and Woods are scheduled to come together for the first time this year at the Honda Classic later this month, ironically the tournament where McIlroy's year began to implode so spectacularly in 2013. We know how he has turned things around.

At 39, Woods is running out of time and credibility. Not only is there a cluster of young thrusters, led by McIlroy, who are moving the dial on the course, off it there is a generation of golf watchers who are untouched by the Woods aura. They have no memory of his great deeds, care little for nostalgia.

Instead they incline towards McIlroy and the likes of Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel - both of whom Woods partners today - the remarkable Jordan Spieth and the new hammer on the tee box, Brooks Koepka, winner of his first PGA Tour title at Phoenix last weekend after Woods missed the cut.

When it did go ahead, Woods spent much of the nine-hole Pro-Am practising his short game off to the side as he battles what many experts are calling chipping yips. If his chipping troubles persist, Woods could easily dip lower than his current world ranking of 56th, putting his place at next month's WGC-Cadillac event in serious doubt.

Woods must return to the top 50 by the completion of the Honda Classic on March 2 otherwise face the reality of missing WGC eligibility for the second time in his career. He says all of his problems stem from being stuck between his old swing pattern and his new one.

"I want to get this. I want to be ready come Augusta and the rest of the Majors, but we still got some work to do."

Woods has earned the right to our patience, having carved a career the like of which has never been seen before.

Demographic

Here was an ethnic warrior from a demographic alien to the sport wrapping up 14 Majors in record time.

The last of those came seven years ago, and such was the majesty of the shots coming off the blade and the iron-like temperament willing the ball into the hole at the 2008 US Open - coincidentally at Torrey Pines - it would be folly to bury the legend just yet.

The most worrying threat comes with the idea that his mind has gone. The attribute that truly separated Woods from the pack was his ability to stare down any in the field and drain anything inside 15 feet when it mattered.

He acknowledged that part of the problem during this phase of his rehabilitation is trusting the changes being made under new swing consultant Chris Como.

Woods is entitled to the benefit of the doubt for now, but he can't hang about. McIlroy and Co wait for no man. (© Independent News Service)

Farmers Insurance Open, live, Sky Sports 4, 8.00pm

Maybank Malaysian Open, live, Sky Sports 4, 5.00am

Irish Independent

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