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Yes, it's that man again
The barrel of superlatives has almost been drained dry, but there are still a few left with which to pay further tribute to Tiger

I am writing this the day after Tiger Woods' remarkable victory in the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Classic. I hadn’t meant to write about him at all. After all, there are enough people the length and breadth of the golfing world who, every day, churn out hundreds of words about this phenomenal man. But I can’t resist it.

Tiger Woods just keeps on going, rather like the summer of 1976, when the sun shone in Britain from about March 28 to October 17 – or something like that. Every day people were saying: “It can’t last, it can’t last!” But it did. They are saying exactly the same sort of thing now about Tiger Woods. (I am, of course, writing this before we know the outcome of this year’s Masters Tournament.)

The mighty Ben Hogan, playing in a tournament, once had a run of six or seven birdies. The story goes that he then got a bit cross when he parred the next hole. His partner of the day said: “Ah, come on Ben, you can’t birdie every hole!” To which he replied: “Why not?” It’s that sort of philosophy which seems to course through Tiger Woods’ veins, but golf isn’t really like that. Of course it’s possible in theory to hit every fairway, then every green in the right number, take one putt and, even without a hole-in-one, go round in something close to 50. But that’s like imagining that someone one day will run a mile in three minutes.

He may not have won at Doral the week after this column was written, but Tiger is still the man
He may not have won at Doral the week after this column was written,
but Tiger is still the man

Tiger makes the odd mistake and occasionally he’s challenged; there are chances for him to be ‘dethroned’. For example, at the Arnold Palmer shindig, Vijay Singh dropped five shots in three holes on Saturday.Without those errors, he should have won. Every week, every month, journalists and television pundits are desperate to find the names of people who will/can/should/would/might challenge Woods, but they all fall by the wayside. Nobody is able to grasp the nettle. Let’s face it. At this moment, the rest of the world just ain’t good enough.

Over the past four months I’ve seen more good-looking players competing around the world than I’ve ever seen before. They appear to have everything and there have been some good victories, but no consistency. That’s one of Tiger’s greatest weapons.

I’ve been a fan of Ernie Els for years. A few weeks ago, after a long dry spell, he won a tournament (Tiger wasn’t in the field). The next week he didn’t make the cut, the week after he withdrew. The reason given? Fatigue! Singh still plays well but is getting obviously older. You never know which Phil Mickelson is going to turn up on the day. Retief Goosen is going through a relatively quiet spell. There are one or two youngish American players who could be on the verge of making a name for themselves but only for finishing in the top-10. The golfing magazines of the world are desperate for new faces, new challengers, someone else to write about. Looking at the game of golf through the eyes of a wine producer, the sad facts are that one vineyard is producing magical wine, every bottle stamped ‘Premier Cru’, while the rest is destined for inexpensive restaurants and supermarkets.

How I wish we could revitalise the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson, Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo, Ray Floyd, Payne Stewart, Fred Couples, José Maria Olazábal, Greg Norman, Curtis Strange, LannyWadkins. What a group! Consistent challengers who were there week after week after week. They didn’t flit in then disappear for weeks on end.

We are told that Tiger is in the “zone”, but there have been other players who have been in the zone. Johnny Miller comes to mind. Oh, yes, I know it was more than 30 years ago, but he was winning six and seven tournaments a year by eight, ten, twelve strokes. I asked him back then whether he had any idea how it happened. He said: “Not really. All I know is that when I stand over the ball I see it flying through the air and nestling by the flag. I have no idea how or why it happens.” I guess that’s the zone.

That, my friends, is the state that Tiger Woods is in. How much further will he progress down the road in his unique career, I don’t know. I did not think he would pass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major championships and still things might happen to deny himthat. However, if ever anybody had the credentials to beat Nicklaus, it must be Tiger. Whatever happens from this day forth, he is by far the greatest player of this generation. Probably of any other, too.

May 2008

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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