Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 25th January 2005

From the "Emirates Evening Post"

If Tiger Woods knows the sporting aphorism “Class is permanent, form is temporary” he must have had some doubts as to whether it applied to him over the last year or so. Although he has won one or two matchplay and other tournaments he had not had a strokeplay win since October 2003. This is an extraordinary period of drought for a player who was regarded by some as the finest golfer ever. This has now changed with Woods win in the Buick Invitational last weekend – and the smile on his face was a yard wide when he collected the trophy.

The factors affecting Woods comparative decline were both physical and mental with the need for a remodelling of his swing because of back problems very significant. The American TV coverage of the Buick showed Woods when he won the same tournament as a tyro in 1999 and compared his swing then with now. The elegance and confidence is the same – but the power seems more effortless since the remodelling. There is less attack through the ball, which might cost Woods a few yards in distance, but surely places less of a strain on his dodgy back. This year the Tiger putted exceptionally well and that is a threatening thought even for the world number one Vijay Singh. If Tiger has sufficient control to guarantee reaching the greens in regulation every time, and putts as well as he did at Torrey Pines, then he will be unbeatable again. In fact Woods long game was a bit shaky in the Buick. He was only 49th in the statistics that the PGA produces in respect of “greens in regulation” – but he was 2nd in respect of Putts per round (only 26.5 per round) and this made the difference. Drive for show – putt for dough!

Whilst improved physical fitness and confidence helped the Tiger that other factor in golf, Lady Luck, played a part as well and no more than at the final hole. The eighteenth at Torrey Pines has a character which will be very familiar to Dubai golfers – it is a long Par 5 with a final shot across the water. Just as at Emirates the call for the pros is whether to lay up with your second or go for the green. The American Charles Howell was in contention at the final hole and he elected to lay up. He then hit a superb wedge of perfect length and distance and watched as it fell into the cup – and then out again! The shot definitely entered the hole (the rattle was audible) but it then somehow not only managed to jump out again but it actually rolled back into the water. A certain Eagle 3 became a Bogey 6 and Howell’s chance was gone. Tiger hit a good drive and elected to go straight for the green. He then totally mishit a 2 iron but luck was with him and instead of heading for the water it skewed to the right of the green. Tiger got down in two (with a 20 yard putt) for a birdie and a tournament win by three shots. With rounds of 69, 63, 72 and 68 it was a well merited win for Tiger Woods - but he would be the first to admit that the golfing gods were with him!

Tiger Woods’ win so early in 2005 sets the year up nicely as we can expect that there will be a battle royal between him, Singh and Ernie Els at the big tournaments. Singh is an extraordinary player blessed with the perfect temperament for golf and with an absolute drive for success. Els is the more talented stroke maker but the Big Easy seems less obsessive and driven. Nevertheless Ernie will be annoyed about being in contention for three Majors last year and letting them all slip. He will want to put that right in 2005. There is also a gathering posse of young Turks eager to move closer to the top in the rankings – Howell, Donald, Campbell, Scott and Casey look the pick of the bunch behind. Predicting Major winners is a mugs game – there have been many surprises in the last few years. But I would expect Sergio Garcia to win one soon and Goosen and Mickelson will be sure to be in contention. So an attractive golfing year is in prospect – look out, the Tiger is on the prowl again!