Although many golf scribes in the USA have concluded that we have seen the best of Tiger Woods I doubt if you will find many tournament professionals prepared to voice their agreement. They doubtless wish for that to be the case but only the dumbest and dimmest believe in wish fulfilment.
To write off a player who only last year had to have his sideboard reinforced to carry all four major championship trophies is like planting palm trees in Fife because of the likelihood of global warming. Were the young man slipping into his 40s one might understand the optimism or pessimism, depending upon your standpoint. But the lad is barely out of diapers and is still a long way off succumbing to the axiom that when your putting goes it never comes back. His putting will come back and when it does he will re-establish himself at the top of the leader boards.
He knows this, the other pros know this and you can bet your life that the bookies know this. That the American golf scribes do not is simply because many are quite a few nickels short of a dollar. This, despite the fact that their journalism school grades were good - although most would appear to have found arithmetic taxing.
Woods ended 2001 in 102nd place for putting on the US tour. Yet, despite poor putting form he won the Memorial Tournament, doubtless for him an important event given that it is played in Jack Nicklaus' back yard at Muirfield Village. That was last June. In August, he won the NEC Invitational and in December he won the Williams World Challenge. The latter two events could be described as cash cows because the fields are restricted, or, put another way, the dross is excluded. Either way, he won against formidable fields. Indeed, looking back at 2001 it is hard to find anyone other than Garcia to compare him with in terms of tournament successes.
Now that the New Zealand Open is over and he has managed to notch up another tournament failure there will doubtless be a great many more column inches devoted to the lad's demise. Certainly, considering the NZ field contained only two players in the world's top 70, it wasn't much of a challenge for the world's number one player. Yet the Tiger only just made the cut and certainly didn't threaten the leader board.
Coming back from a six shot deficit at the cut used to be meat and drink to the boy but burning a field is no longer part of his script. Thankfully, the lad has learned to relax and take time to smell the flowers along the way.
Why not? The tournament organisers were prepared to put up $NZ 2m dollars to bring him out to play and he was, after all, already in Hawaii, just up the road. Hey, life is for living, Pararparaumu Beach is worth a look and besides, his caddie wanted him to meet his mum. Winning or losing the New Zealand Open was never going to be something that would give Woods sleepless nights.
Motivation must surely be a problem for someone his age after having re-written the record books and accrued a mountain of money. Realising that you are the greatest player who has ever hit a golf ball must make you wonder where you go from here. Certainly, Pararparaumu Beach is not likely to be the answer.
Tiger Woods is suffering from the same ailment that Tommy Morris suffered from some 150 years ago. Like Tommy, the Tiger took the game to new heights and anyone who wished to play his game had to make the ascent. These men did not slip back into the field, the field rose to their level.
Tommy Morris is the only player in the history of the game who can be compared to Woods and it is ironical that golf historians have been quick to draw conclusions about his demise too. It has been written and repeatedly regurgitated that after winning his fourth successive Open Championship, Young Tommy was 'never quite the same player again'. There is never any mention of the fact that he was runner-up to Tom Kidd in the farcical following year's Open at a rain drenched St Andrews at a time when there was no relief from standing water. Further, that the year after that he was second to Bob Ferguson over his home course at Musselburgh, 'a place not fit to graze goats' as one contemporary writer described it. Tommy was dead three months later so that was that. But over that two year period, other than in a couple of head-to-heads with Davie Strath, I can find no account of him being beaten in medal play. So much for a loss of form!
Tiger Woods will suffer the same vicissitudes. There will be times when he will be distracted or simply off his hamburgers. But there will also be times when he will be keen to come out to play and it is then that we will see the real Tiger.
Augusta in the spring is a particularly inspiring place and he has already smelled the flowers there.
|| 15 - JANUARY 2002