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 Another Thing

Between R Rock and a hard place

So Tiger Woods didn’t make it back-to back victories by winning the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship. In that endeavour, he had to be content with a tie for third, a shot behind his supposed soon to- be-successor as world No. 1, Rory McIlroy, and two shots adrift of Robert Rock, who thereby collected the second tour title of his career.

Woods had won on his final appearance of 2011, at the limited-field Chevron World Challenge in California, but in the Middle East he was up against a full field and a host of big names – outside of a World Golf Championship event, the strongest line-up this year prior to the Masters.

That Woods came close to winning in that environment might suggest that his return to the winner’s circle in ‘proper’ circumstances may not be long delayed. That hasn’t happened since he played in Australia in November 2009, shortly before his car’s collision with a hydrant presaged havoc in his life. On the other hand, the fact that no one was much surprised that Tiger didn’t win despite sharing the lead with Rock going into Sunday in some ways demonstrates how far he has fallen.

There was a time not so very long ago that Woods was almost invincible when he went into the final round of a tournament with the lead or a share of it. On the PGA Tour, his successful conversion rate is 92%, against an average for ‘normal’ players of 40%. Worldwide, prior to Abu Dhabi, he’d successfully converted a 54-hole advantage into a 72-hole triumph on 54 of 61 occasions. That latter figure was made somewhat noteworthy on the weekend of Abu Dhabi when Tiger’s PR team disseminated the results of a poll in the United States which showed that 61% of respondents said Woods was the golfer they would be most interested in watching if he went into the final round of a tournament with a lead.

From a historic viewpoint, though, when it comes to assessing Tiger’s record in the major championships, there may be greater emphasis on the remarkable fact that of the 14 he has collected to date, all were earned with the lead or a share of it after 54 holes – he never came from behind to win; never grabbed one other than when in the last pairing on Sunday. He was 14 wins from 14 attempts with that stat until the 2009 USPGA Championship, when – three months and more before his hydrant exploits – Y.E. Yang did for him with a closing 70 at Hazeltine while Woods stumbled in with a 75 to fritter away the two-shot lead he’d taken into Sunday.

“The turning point was the 10th hole,” Woods lamented after it was over in Abu Dhabi. “I hit a beautiful little wedge in there and it looked like it was going to be a kick-in [birdie]. Next thing you know I’m making bogey.” Time was, not so very long ago, that the breaks seemed invariably to go in his favour, not the other way around. Of course, perspective is needed here. Tiger’s ‘failures’ are regarded as such because of the extraordinary accomplishments he has achieved. It’s a similar story with his income.

According to the latest update of the ‘Golf Digest 50’, Woods’ off-course earnings in 2011 fell from just over $100 million to a meagre $62 million, mostly as a direct consequence of the escapade with his Escalade. His manager, Mark Steinberg, told Golf Digest that while things weren’t back to the financially halcyon days of yore, “it’s safe to say we’re on a dramatic upswing in terms of him becoming a corporate partnership force”.

Something else may have changed, too. While he was in the middle of losing the 2009 PGA to Yang, Woods’ lack of sportsmanship was pretty evident – leaving greens before his playing partner had putted out and the like. In Abu Dhabi, Rock made a point of saying this. “Playing with Tiger Woods will be my lasting memory of that week, realising he was a really nice guy to play with…Tiger made it easier for me in a way when it appears it may be difficult to play alongside him, and if he wasn’t as nice to play with it would be much, much harder.”

Rock took home close to €350,000 for the victory, Woods just over €100,000 for his share of third place. Last year Woods made over $2 million in prize money, only half as much as his erstwhile great rival, Phil Mickelson. That’s another sign of the times – that as far as Woods is concerned, things ain’t what they used to be. But they do look a lot less bleak than they did previously. Major No. 15 at the Masters? I doubt it, but the prospect of there ever being a 15th looks brighter than in the dark days of two winters ago.

March 2012

Reproduced with kind permission of Golf International Magazine


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