‘Cook has no flair’
Geoffrey Boycott and Michael Vaughan reflect on England’s topsy-turvy 2016
GOLF Tiger Woods This is it. No more waiting, no more excuses, regardless of how legitimate they have been. If it is to happen again for Woods then at the very least he will require an injury-free season as well as a campaign in which he shows he can be competitive.
Ranked outside the world’s top 650, Woods, 41, needs an early win to ensure he qualifies for the WGC Championship in Mexico City and the WGC Matchplay in Austin. However, his focus will centre on the Masters, where he has managed to figure on the leaderboard even while he has been stuck in this injury-ravaged, selfdoubting trough. If his back and mind consent to stay strong, then expect a Woods circus at Augusta, as the Tiger returns to his most natural habitat. Superlatives will bounce around those cathedral pines.
Not everyone is convinced, however, with Paul McGinley, the former Europe Ryder Cup captain, suggesting: “The new generation of players are simply not afraid of Tiger any more.” Rory McIlroy
When a living legend such as Jack Nicklaus is telling a multi-millionaire, multi-majored 27-year-old that he needs to “work hard” if his career is to get any better to take the next step to greatness, then it is easy to ascertain that McIlroy is at a critical juncture. While he will insist he is already doing everything he can, he would also agree that the past two years have been a letdown. It is a gauge of McIlroy’s talent
‘If Woods’ mind and back stay strong, expect a circus at the Masters in Augusta’
and, indeed, his standards, that a majorless campaign is considered a lost one. Unrealistic, unfair? No doubt. But that is where he is. Certainly, a fifth major in 2017 should be the very least of his ambitions. He finished 2016 well enough but the same was said in 2014 and 2015. The positive aspect this time around is that he now has a fine putting coach in Phil Kenyon and has at last recognised that he must fix the weaknesses in his short game. McIlroy has a busy start to the year, with three starts in five weeks. He could do with hitting the ground running – and not stopping. Charley Hull
Not every girl wonder is in a rush. While Lydia Ko has raced to the top, Hull (below) has taken on the air of a nonchalant teenager ambling towards a party as she has given notice of her outrageous potential. However, now she is approaching her 21st birthday, Hull appears ready to quicken into the sprint which will surely lead her to the top of the game and, who knows, perhaps to lay claim to being the best British female golfer in history. There is no doubt she has the armoury and, after her victory in the LPGA’s Tour Championship two months ago, she possesses the quality title on her CV to take major glory. Hull finished second in the ANA Inspiration at Rancho Mirage, California, last year and must be fancied to go one better this time in the year’s first major. Some have questioned the Englishwoman’s desire, confusing her laid-back persona with indifference. In truth, her spirit-level temperament should prove a tremendous attribute. Ian Poulter
The Englishman says his goal for the year is “to start enjoying golf again”. But such are the demands of his competitive psyche it must be queried if Poulter could ever have fun without, at the very least, being in contention.
In truth, Poulter will again summon the motivation from his love of proving people wrong. And, at the age of nearly 41, he is not yet ready for his career to slip into the irrelevance many are predicting. However, in the context of last year’s injuries, a return to the elite will be a tough ask. He is 184th in the world rankings and not qualified for any of the year’s majors. He also has his PGA Tour card to worry about and this must be his primary focus.
An early win would fix everything but Poulter, a formerly perennial champion, has not won in more than four years and his game plainly requires urgent and rapid improvement. To this end he has broken the habit of a lifetime by employing renowned swing coach Pete Cowen. His putting needs a marked upturn as well. Keith Pelley
When Pelley took over as chief executive of the European Tour in early 2015 he said he should be judged from 2017. So, here we are and the schedule is indeed impressive with seven tournaments with at least £5.7 million in prize money each, linked in the ‘Rolex Series’ title.
Pelley, a Canadian with a huge success record in professional ice hockey, has delivered his pitch. “This provides a strong financial offering so our young players don’t have to go to the United States,” he said.
Like every good salesman, the spiel does not tell all of the story and, like every salesman, his plan relies on the target taking up the deal. The Tour is subsidising some of the purses so needs the European stars to show up and maybe at least a few of the Americans, too.
Pelley palpably needs the sponsors to be impressed at McIlroy and co turning out in force. He needs this to work and for it to show that his Tour can be some sort of alternative to the PGA Tour.
Crunch time: Tiger Woods needs to hit the ground running if he is to revive his career