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World domination or what?
The press headline 'Woods on course for world domination' appeared in broadsheet newspapers on both sides of the Atlantic over the weekend.

I suppose that the pun was too much for sports desk editors wearied of the on-course reports of Woods' successes and exhausted wielding the red pencil over adjectives extolling his greatness. The headline, of course, refers to his now having won all of the so-called 'world championships' sponsored by Accenture. But in terms of understatement it shows a rare talent for literary meiosis in its finest form.

Tiger Woods has now won 7 out of 13 starts in world golf championship events. He has also won 8 majors and 35 other tournaments worldwide. Few, I suspect, would disagree that he is on course for world domination and equally few would disagree that he is already there. I further suspect that few would contest hyperbole in the statement that he is simply the best golfer of all time.

The World Matchplay at the La Costa resort at Carlsbad in California was disappointing because we learned nothing from it other than that the Tiger reigns supreme. The long anticipated showdown with Ernie Els did not materialise -- as it was never really likely to do. 18 holes of matchplay golf is but a sprint and it was always on the cards that one or other of the duo would fall to a player hot on the day. To the best of my recollections no player has ever returned the best round in every round of a 72-hole strokeplay tournament -- not even the Tiger. Els succumbed in the first round, far from ignominiously, to Tataurangi whose scoring was such that he would have trounced any player in the field on the day. It was singularly unfortunate that Els was exposed to the young New Zealander's best play over 18 holes. 36 holes might have made the difference to Els for he simply ran out of holes. Tataurangi succumbed to Lonard quietly in the next round but Lonard went all the way to a narrow semi-final defeat by David Toms.

Woods' progress through the field was altogether easier and as inevitable and relentless as an in-coming tide. He beat Pettereson 2 and 1 in the first round, Choi, 5 and 3 in the second, Leaney, 7 and 6 in the third and Scott Hoch 5 and 4 in the fourth. Watching Woods with what had been pitted against him was like seeing the work of a painter and decorator hung beside a Picasso. As an American TV interviewer, rather embarrassingly for Woods, said to him after the Hoch match, "you looked as if you could have won that standing on one leg". Hoch smiled at the man benignly.

Adam Scott posed a semi-final threat to Woods that was a portent of things to come. Like Els, Woods rarely plays to his best in the first round of a tournament. Through the first four rounds at Carlsbad, Woods' golf was patchy and at times indifferent. Against Adam Scott, however, the Tiger was made to play the best golf of the week.

Scott confesses to have modelled his game on Woods and it is clear that he has succeeded. His golfing action is eerily similar and his concentration and determination is on a par with the master. The two frequently play practise rounds together and one would suspect that if Woods has not had prior premonitions of the threat to his supremacy by this 22 year old Australian, his play on Saturday must at least have made the Tiger sit up and think.

Arguably, Scott's play through the18 hole semi-final was more solid and consistent than Woods'. He hit more fairways and he hit more greens. Yet Scott, despite taking the match to an extra hole suffered defeat by failing to hole a four-foot putt. Woods may have his share of missed fairways and greens: he may even miss the occasional four-foot putt, but he difference between Woods and mere mortal golfers is that Woods does not miss when it matters. The closing holes of the 36 hole final against David Toms showed Woods' application to best effect yet.

Having been 4 holes ahead after the first 18 holes and 5 ahead after 19, nonchalance crept into Woods' game. He smiled over a missed putt to lose the 20th hole and took to a hands-in-pockets posture on the fairways. Toms, journeyman-like, applied himself to the task at hand and worked the deficit back to one hole. But by then the Tiger had stirred himself and, with a two-hole lead and Toms playing first off the 35th tee, he sprang. Toms blocked his tee-shot into desperately penalising rough from which he was fortunate to get a drop through a cart track interfering with his stance. His recovery was good but not good enough, for Tiger meanwhile had hit the middle of the fairway and played his second to the back of the green. Toms, on hands and knees to identify his ball in the rough only a few yards from the green, could at best only be expected to half the hole. Woods hit the fairway and green when it really counted and in doing so underlined his greatness.

The Tiger will not be filling up his jets tank for a flight to Dubai this week. Like Montgomerie and others, Woods, despite a $1M inducement, will not make the trip because of the uncertainty of hostilities in the region. It says much for Els, the defending champion, that he will make the trip. Sadly, we will have to wait a little longer to see the 72-hole showdown between Els and Woods. With Woods not feeling up to desert warfare the jury will have to remain out on the question of whether Woods is on course for World Domination.

©    4 - MARCH 2003

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