Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Paddy's Sports View 15th March 2005

From "The Emirates Evening Post"

The sign of true champions in any sport, be it a team or an individual, is the ability to win even when not at the peak of your form. When things are not going quite right it is the latent reserves of technical ability or pride or ambition that take over and drive the great sportsmen on - often to an improbable success. We have seen this a few times in the last couple of sporting weeks. By his own exceptional standard Ernie Els was not at his imperious best at the Dubai Desert Classic. He explored parts of the Majlis course which, whilst familiar to many of us, were unknown territory to the "Big Easy". Drives that would usually split the fairway were sheering off and landing amongst the bushes. Putts, which would normally move unerringly to the hole, were stopping short or passing too swiftly by. Of course there was also the effortless birdie, the approach which stopped within a whisker of the hole, and the phenomenal length off the tee which turned the Par fives into fours - but Ernie was not consistently destroying the course as he had in previous tournaments. Nevertheless Els was in the last pair for the final round and you sensed that however well the estimable Miguel Angel Jimenez was playing Ernie had something in reserve. He didn't play particularly well - and Jimenez played superbly - but when it came to the finish it was Els who produced the Champion's flourish to win. As an encore Ernie flirted with a missed cut after a very poor opening round the following week in Qatar but once again clawed his way back and produced the round of the week to win in the end. Back to back wins on any tour are very rare indeed but with Els achieving this feat when not at his best what more can which expect from him in the 2005 season? Quite a lot I think!

Ernie Els is one a small number of outstanding talents at the pinnacle of professional golf. With Tiger Woods return to the best of his form, and with Vijay Singh's ambition undiminished we can anticipate a few stirring battles between these three this year. It will be interesting to see whether this triumvirate maintain a gap with the rest or whether Mickelson (also a back to back tour winner this year) or maybe a new face will join them at the top. Perhaps that new face will be Padraig Harrington whose win at the weekend in the Honda Classic was his first on the PGA tour. The Irishman's final round of 63, which had only five pars in it (along with eleven birdies and two bogies) was nothing short of astonishing.

If the ability to turn a weak sporting situation round and to drag success from the jaws of failure is the mark of a true champion then no individual nor team has this quite to the same extent as the Australian cricket team. It is easy to forget that the Aussies do, occasionally, get themselves into difficulties that would destroy weaker teams. In the First Test match at Christchurch last week New Zealand had Australia on the ropes. The Kiwis scored 433 in their first innings and then reduced Australia to 201-6 a position from which the New Zealanders must have expected to force a win. The reason that the Aussies are a great team is that when they are in trouble someone always "steps up to the plate". Centuries from Katich and Gilchrist and fine bowling from Warne and Gillespie gave Australia a comfortable win in the end.

Finally in a week of sporting comebacks it was also good to see a Pakistan team show real character to deny India a win in Mohali. Pakistan have too often in recent times fallen well short of the results that their individual talents should deliver. Their recovery to draw the First Test match was a fine achievement and maybe they will have now established the confidence that will ensure that the series in India will be competitive. Confidence comes from self-belief as the achievements of Ernie Els, Padraig Harrington and the Australian and Pakistani cricket teams have shown us. The great sports stars can always inhale the rarefied oxygen of self-belief when they need it the most.