Tiger Woods passed the ultimate test at Bay Hill in Orlando, Florida last weekend and finally walked on water. He won Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill Invitational Tournament by 11 shots from a field that could not have been stronger. He won it with consummate ease and a case of food poisoning that required as many port-a-loo stops as he had putts.
Should he require a limb amputation before the Masters next month it would neither reduce the likelihood of his winning nor detract from the possibility of his achieving an '03 Grand Slam.
Although Woods looked uncomfortable with both the meteorological and his personal physiological condition he was forced to endure, he never looked like anything other than the winner after posting a second round 65 and making his 100th successive cut in tournament play. It was his fourth successive Bay Hill win, giving him another record book entry for it is not since Gene Sarazen won four successive Miami Opens before 1930 that anyone has achieved a tournament quadruplet.
Sarazen was closely challenged for each of his wins - Woods was not. Those struggling for the support places were mere flickering reflections of mediocrity in the blazing firmament of Woods' super nova.
Bay Hill, in conditions many regarded as unplayable with standing water and rough penalising in even dry conditions, posed little problem for Woods who, by his own standards played unspectacularly. Yet he played well enough to record his 37th US Tour win and his 44th worldwide. He collected half a million pounds, which took his seasons income after his fourth win to £1.8 million. But what is more important, and must induce feelings of dismay in those who would challenge him, is that it was the 28th time in 30 tournaments that he has taken a 54-hole lead to tournament victory.
This is a remarkable achievement which more than any other reflects his supremacy.
Of the two events in which Woods has failed to convert a third day lead into an outright win, his falling to Westwood in Germany is memorable. Westwood was in the field at Bay Hill but managed only to threaten his own sense of well being. Similarly Els, of whom much was expected after his start to the season, was but a pale shade of the player that he can be.
Apparently he is suffering from a wrist injury sustained from a punch-bag accident in his garage at his home in Wentworth. Baddeley battled and Faxon and Cink splashed through at Bay Hill but none looked as if they were capable of disturbing, far less toppling, Woods.
If there is such a being as the complete golfer Woods is surely it. Unperturbable, unflappable, composed, confident and secure in his ability, Woods is surely the best that there has ever been. With his athleticism and reserves of stamina that took him through obvious illness at Bay Hill, there would appear to be no clear limits to what he can achieve this year.
With his focus and determination, freed from the constraints of earning a living at the game, the longer term looks even bleaker for the young guns that would aspire to his play.
Woods could retire now and his place in the history of the game would be secure. His name and personality would guarantee him a starring role for life. He no longer has to play for a living or disturb himself with the wearying grind of travel and competition. Yet he goes on relentlessly and the reason that he does so makes for the most intimidating aspect of the man as a tournament player.
Tiger Woods is not satisfied with being a winner or the best of his generation, he is on a mission to transcend every player that has preceded him.
Tiger is not likely to be distracted from his life goals. Those who would use his name in social or political issues, into which he could be so easily be dragged, do not distract him. When pressed by a newspaperman for his views on the conflict in Iraq he replied, 'Im just a golfer, not a politician.' On both counts he was fibbing. If he is 'just a golfer' then those playing for second place are just hackers. If he is not a politician then he is certainly the best diplomat the game has ever seen and its best ambassador by far.
|| 25 - MARCH 2003