Woods’ golf form de­fies belief


Central Leader - - SPORT -

It’s dif­fi­cult to re­call a sports star who has fallen from grace as dra­mat­i­cally as golfer Tiger Woods.

Though it’s true he lost much of his pop­u­lar­ity when it was re­vealed in 2009 he had cheated on his wife with a string of pros­ti­tutes and porn ac­tors, I’m re­fer­ring more to his be­wil­der­ing de­cline on the golf course.

Woods was steam­ing to­wards Jack Nick­laus’ record of 18 Ma­jors golf crowns. He had 14 and was in his golf prime.

But from 2008, he has not won another Ma­jor. Un­til then he was av­er­ag­ing 1.5 a year.

Woods con­tin­ues to bat­tle away, try­ing to re­verse his slump, but his form is dis­as­trous. His world rank­ing has plunged be­low 200 – this from a man who was the world’s No 1 golfer for 683 weeks.

At the US Open over the week­end, he shot 80 and 76 and missed the cut by 11 strokes.

He hit 16 fair­ways – 145th in the field. He hit 21 greens in reg­u­la­tion – 128th. He needed 73 putts in those two rounds – 151st. And his av­er­age driv­ing length was 295 yards – 104th. He was bad ev­ery­where.

Woods has shot 80 or worse three times this year, in­clud­ing a bizarre 85 at the Me­mo­rial on June 7, when he trailed the field and had to play his fi­nal round alone.

He is still a big name, so draws vast crowds. That makes what’s go­ing on worse, be­cause he is a laugh­ing stock in the full glare of the spotlight.

At least when New Zealan­der Michael Camp­bell went through his ca­reer-end­ing slump, he did so vir­tu­ally in pri­vate. Golf seems bru­tal on the nerves. David Du­val was the world No 1 in 1999. Then he lost his nerve and has never been a fac­tor again.

Chip Beck was a top 10 golfer who shot a fan­tas­tic round of 59 at Las Ve­gas in 1991 and then lost his way. Soon af­ter, he went 46 suc­ces­sive tour­na­ments with­out mak­ing the cut.

Ian Baker-Finch, the pop­u­lar Aus­tralian, won the Bri­tish Open in 1991, af­ter which his game fell apart so dra­mat­i­cally he had to head to the com­men­tary box.

Other sports can be equally bru­tal.

Rus­sian Elena De­men­tieva was a fine ten­nis player, but could never con­quer her nerves on serve, dish­ing up ridicu­lous num­bers of dou­ble faults.

De­men­tieva won an Olympic gold and reached two Grand Slam sin­gles fi­nals. If she’d been able to over­come her serv­ing yips, she might have been one of the greats.

Eric Bris­tow, ‘‘the Crafty Cock­ney’’, was the world’s No 1 darts player dur­ing the 1980s, but be­came so af­fected by nerves he some­times could not let go of the dart.

Closer to home, Mark Richard­son, a promis­ing left-arm spin­ner, be­came a bun­dle of nerves and had to give away bowl­ing.

In­stead he turned him­self into a gritty and suc­cess­ful open­ing bats­man, un­til nerves fi­nally got the bet­ter of him in that ca­pac­ity, too. Ex­am­ples like Richard­son, Bris­tow and now Woods re­mind us how vi­tal the men­tal side of top sport is.

Woods is phys­i­cally still ca­pa­ble of be­ing a great golfer. But his mind has got in the way. He has lost belief.

That sort of dam­age hard­est to re­pair.

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