Monday, February 06, 2006

Paddy's Sports View 6th February 2006

As published in the "Bahrain Tribune"

If ever there was a good example of the truth of the aphorism “Who dares wins” it was at the Dubai Desert Classic last Sunday. Tiger Woods had not been hitting the ball well off the tee all week, by his own imperious standards. His driver was not working as well as it should with too many very wayward drives getting him in trouble. True the Tiger’s short game was as solid as ever and he usually managed to recover from a bad drive with his short irons and this kept him in the hunt for a win. Reaching the 17th hole in the final round Woods was one of three or four players in with a chance. This hole is a short Par 4 (359 yards with a dog leg to the right) and for a player of Woods power the green is reachable off the tee, but it is a risky shot as Woods had already found out to his cost in previous rounds. The cautious thing to do would have been to play safe with a solid drive down the centre of the fairway, followed by an approach which would give a decent chance of a birdie. But this was not what Woods chose to do. Out came the driver and this time the contact was sweet. The ball landed on the front of the green and two putts later the Tiger had his birdie.

Some would argue that Woods bravery was cushioned by the fact that he had already pocketed a cool $3million in Dubai appearance money alone and that, therefore, he had nothing to lose by a spot of daring-do. To say this underestimates just how much the Tiger still has the urge to win. That he can command mega dollars just by turning up is a fact which he puts out of his mind when he is on the course where he has a single-minded obsession to win. When he plays a poor shot (as happened quite often last week) he doesn’t shrug his shoulders and smile but he glowers with anger and often indulges in a bit of mild club abuse as well. He is driven to succeed every time he plays not to add to the gold in his personal vault, but simply to prove again that he is the best. At Dubai he had failed twice in his previous visits and it hurt. In 2001 he had a double bogey on the final hole which cost him a win, and he had to be coaxed out of the locket room to appear at the presentation ceremony so great was his disappointment. But this year the Tiger put all that right without really, by his own admission, playing well. But he fought, and he scrambled and he dared…and he won.

Whilst Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara (the only other American in the field) were playing in Dubai the rest of the PGA Tour were in Phoenix competing for the FBR (Phoenix) Open. Now this tournament is popular with fans and has a long history - but what a shame that it clashed with the Desert Classic. There are no less than 56 events on the PGA tour this year which means that players on the tour certainly have no need to travel if they don’t want to. Indeed it is likely that for most Americans on the Tour their only foray across the pond will be to the (British) “Open Championship” at Hoylake in July or (if they are lucky) to the Ryder Cup in Ireland in September. Most American golf fans, and even many professional golfers, are woefully ignorant of golf tournaments outside of North America (other than the “Open”) and little progress has been made in recent times to getting a more unified international professional golf calendar.

The Dubai Desert Classic is unquestionably one of the finest events in the golfing year anywhere in the world. The organisation, the course and the usually strong field make it an event that all the pros on the European Tour want to win. Surely the time is now ripe, especially given the publicity that the Tiger’s win will have generated, to recognise the Classic’s success by enhancing its status. The PGA Tour could help this by avoiding scheduling a top American event at the same time and by giving the Classic a higher profile in the media. And to have a couple of dozen players from the PGA Tour in Dubai next year might give American/Middle East relations a bit of a much needed boost as well!