Will golf be­gin again for Tiger at 40?

Lesotho Times - - Sport -

LON­DON — Imag­ine Earl Woods choos­ing to put a base­ball bat rather than a golf club into the hands of young Eldrick, his tod­dler son.

How dif­fer­ent would golf be if Tiger Woods, who turned 40 on 30 De­cem­ber 2015, had cho­sen to play some­thing else?

As the ail­ing 14-time ma­jor cham­pion strug­gles to swing a club again, he can cel­e­brate this land­mark birth­day by re­flect­ing that no-one has had a big­ger im­pact on the game.

The eco­nomic im­pact Would mod­ern-day golf be as ath­letic or back in the Olympics with­out his in­flu­ence? “I doubt it,” Euro­pean Ry­der Cup cap­tain Dar­ren Clarke told the BBC.

“All sports progress, all sports move for­ward. Ten­nis has changed im­mensely as well over the years.

“But golf was some­what slower to adapt to all that stuff. With all the tech­nol­ogy we have now, fit­ness has be­come a huge part of it and I think Tiger led the way.”

The 47-year-old Clarke has played most of his ca­reer with Woods as a great friend and ri­val.

“Be­cause he played so well, so con­sis­tently, ev­ery­body was try­ing to fig­ure out what he did. What­ever he was do­ing was right, so he led the way on many fronts,” the 2011 Open cham­pion added.

An­other of those fronts was Woods’ eco­nomic im­pact. In 1996, when he burst on to the scene, PGA Tour purses to­talled more than $100 mil­lion (M1.55 bil­lion) for the first time.

In the pre­vi­ous six years they had grown at a rate of 3.4 per­cent. Then Woods won the 1997 Masters by an as­ton­ish­ing 12 strokes.

It was the big bang mo­ment, the first of 14 ma­jor tri­umphs for the then 21 year old.

The last of those came at the 2008 US Open and by then the PGA Tour sched­ule was worth $292 mil­lion. Prize money in­fla­tion ran at 9.3 per­cent in that pe­riod.

“The re­sults are as­ton­ish­ing,” said Amer­i­can political sci­en­tist Roger Pielke Jr, who car­ried out ex­ten­sive re­search into what he termed the “Tiger Woods ef­fect”.

“Tiger ef­fec­tively more than dou­bled the prize money for ev­ery other golfer, adding bil­lions of dol­lars to fel­low play­ers’ pock­ets.”

Woods’ great­est ri­val has been five-time ma­jor cham­pion Phil Mick­el­son, who fully ap­pre­ci­ates the way this trail­blazer brought so much more money to golf.

“It’s un­be­liev­able, the growth of this game — and Tiger has been the in­sti­ga­tor,” Mick­el­son said.

“He’s brought in­creased rat­ings, in­creased spon­sors, in­creased in­ter­est and we have all ben­e­fited.”

The decade of dom­i­na­tion Play­ers may have been richer but many were shat­tered by Woods’ bril­liance dur­ing his years of dom­i­na­tion.

Colin Mont­gomerie in­sists one of the rea­sons he never won a ma­jor was that his op­por­tu­ni­ties were so lim­ited by the pro­lific Amer­i­can. An in-form Woods only needed to turn up to win the big­gest ti­tles.

There was a sense of in­evitabil­ity at the 2001 Masters when he com­pleted a twostroke win over David Du­val to hold all four ma­jors si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

No-one else has achieved such a feat and the run be­gan at Peb­ble Beach in 2000 when Woods won his first US Open with the great­est golf ever played. He was the only man to break par on a course con­sid­ered too tight for his driv­ing game.

Woods put that er­ro­neous no­tion to bed with a bril­liant open­ing 65 be­fore fin­ish­ing 15 strokes clear of the field.

Here are some of the stel­lar names, with their ma­jor tal­lies, who fin­ished in the top 20 in Cal­i­for­nia that week: Ernie Els (4), Miguel An­gel Jimenez (0), Lee West­wood (0), Padraig Har­ring­ton (3), Du­val (1), Ste­wart Cink (1), Vi­jay Singh (3), Retief Goosen (2), Michael Camp­bell (1), Jose Maria Olazabal (2), Mick­el­son (5) and David Toms (1).

How much higher might those fig­ures have been had Woods not beaten th­ese play­ers so reg­u­larly and so con­vinc­ingly? Add to the list Spain’s Ser­gio Gar­cia, surely a ma­jor cham­pion in any other era.

Fol­low­ing the Peb­ble Beach tri­umph, Woods claimed the Open at St An­drews by eight strokes and re­pelled the plucky Bob May in a play-off to land the PGA at Val­halla. He held all four ma­jors with an av­er­age win­ning mar­gin of 6.5 strokes. The in­spi­ra­tion for a new gen­er­a­tion “He was a phe­nom­e­non,” Clarke said. “He was the young kid com­ing out to show us what he could do.

“The in­ter­est that he brought to the game, the young­sters that he brought to the game, his level of fit­ness — he brought so many dif­fer­ent facets to the game.

“I’m cer­tainly very for­tu­nate to have played in his era.”

Woods was golf’s poster boy. He was dif­fer­ent — a black man in an over­whelm­ingly white sport — and he be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for the play­ers who pop­u­late the top of the cur­rent world rank­ings.

“What Tiger Woods has done for golf, I’m not sure any­one would do again,” four-time ma­jor cham­pion Rory Mcil­roy told the BBC.

“Not just how un­be­liev­ably tal­ented he was, but what he stood for, where he came from. He brought a whole new de­mo­graphic into golf and sort of made golf cool again for kids.”

Mcil­roy, along with fel­low top-three stars Jor­dan Spi­eth and Ja­son Day, are prime ex­am­ples of the ex­cel­lence and ath­leti­cism Woods brought to the game.

At the height of his pow­ers Woods tran­scended golf and was the big­gest sports star on the planet. He was ca­pa­ble of su­perhu- man achieve­ments like win­ning the 2008 US Open while suf­fer­ing a bro­ken leg.

De­spite his rather re­luc­tant and dour pub­lic per­sona, Woods seemed un­touch­able in ev­ery re­spect.

The fall from grace Ap­par­ently hap­pily mar­ried with two beau­ti­ful chil­dren, once his leg was fixed, he would surely go on to smash Jack Nick­laus’ record of 18 ma­jor vic­to­ries. He was only 32 with a long ca­reer of con­tin­ued dom­i­na­tion ahead of him.

A year later, though, he stum­bled to de­feat by YE Yang at the PGA at Hazel­tine. Woods had never be­fore been beaten from the front in a ma­jor and his aura was se­verely shaken by the un­her­alded Korean.

He was also hid­ing the se­cret of a string of ex­tra-mar­i­tal affairs that dra­mat­i­cally be­came pub­lic knowl­edge af­ter he crashed his car on Thanks­giv­ing night just three months later.

It was a shattering fall from grace and al­though he re­turned to the top of the world rank­ings in 2013 he has failed to add to his ma­jor tally. He was never again the same ir­re­sistible golf­ing force.

His body bares the scars of decades of hard phys­i­cal train­ing. He pre­pared like an ath­lete and ath­letes are usu­ally com­pet­i­tively fin­ished when their 40th birth­day comes around.

Woods will prob­a­bly heave one of those middle-aged sighs as he climbs out of his seat to blow out the can­dles. Af­ter three back op­er­a­tions in the past 19 months he waits to see whether he will swing a golf club in anger again.

The long road back “Come on, I’m not re­tired. I’m not done yet,” Woods protested dur­ing his re­cent World Chal­lenge Tour­na­ment in the Ba­hamas.

He was re­spond­ing to a wide­spread in­ter­pre­ta­tion of an ear­lier news con­fer­ence at which his un­char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally frank an­swers sug­gested his ca­reer might be over.

“I know there will be a time when I will get to re­hab, get to start work­ing out again, and I’ll do ev­ery­thing I can to get back out here.”

Down to 416 in the world rank­ings, Woods is largely con­fined to his sofa. He talks, though, of want­ing to win more tour­na­ments, adding to a list of 79 PGA Tour vic­to­ries and to be a play­ing vice-cap­tain at the next Ry­der Cup.

The record books sug­gest a golfer’s life is far from over at 40. Vi­jay Singh, one of the few play­ers to mus­cle in on Woods’ 623 weeks as world num­ber one, won 22 times af­ter his 40th birth­day.

Ben Ho­gan, who over­came the ef­fects of a car crash that nearly killed him, won the next three ma­jors af­ter reach­ing that age in Au­gust 1952.

Nick­laus had five wins af­ter that land­mark, in­clud­ing the three ma­jors that took his tally to his record of 18.

And it is Nick­laus to whom Woods has most reg­u­larly been com­pared. But their sport­ing vo­ca­tions have dif­fer­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics.

“Jack Nick­laus’ ca­reer was so long,” ob­served the re­spected Golf Chan­nel pun­dit Bran­del Cham­blee.

“He won his ma­jor cham­pi­onships over 24 years, spanned three gen­er­a­tions, but Tiger Woods dom­i­nated in a way that had never been done be­fore and will never be done again.”

Cham­blee has been one of Woods’ big­gest crit­ics, par­tic­u­larly re­gard­ing the swing changes that marked the lat­ter part of his ca­reer.

But this elo­quent for­mer PGA Tour pro tellingly con­cludes: “In my es­ti­ma­tion, you’d have to give the edge to Tiger Woods as the great­est player of all time.”

It feels as though mark­ing this great cham­pion’s 40th birth­day has in­volved writ­ing his golf­ing obit­u­ary.

Af­ter all, it is only a month since Woods said: “For my 20 years out here I think I’ve achieved a lot, and if that’s all it en­tails, then I’ve had a pretty good run.”

He is the mas­ter of un­der­state­ment. “Pretty good run” doesn’t come close to de­scrib­ing such an as­ton­ish­ing ca­reer.

Un­doubt­edly the sport owes Earl Woods a huge debt for point­ing his son in the di­rec­tion of golf be­cause the sport­ing life that re­sulted mas­sively changed the game for the bet­ter.

But is that it? Is he done, be­fore the flames on those 40 can­dles are ex­tin­guished? Woods is surely not alone when he added: “But I’m hop­ing that’s not it.” — BBC

Tiger Woods was golf’s poster boy and be­came the in­spi­ra­tion for the cur­rent crop of play­ers.

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