Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Tiger Woods a pale shadow of a great winner

Fall from grace: Tiger Woods shows his despair during the second round
Fall from grace: Tiger Woods shows his despair during the second round

Tiger Woods began the second round tied eighth at three under par and upbeat. He ended the day crestfallen at two over par after a dismal round of five-over-par 77.

He can only look up the leaderboard at Rory McIlroy's name and think: that used to be me.

Where were The Swinging Sixties when Woods needed them? He has broken 70 in the second rounds of all his 14 major victories.

Here he struggled to break 80. If he is to make it to 15 majors (it won't be at Hoylake), he is going to have to write a new hit record somewhere down the line.

It was truly a Black Friday for Woods. Clad head to toe in the regulation colours of the bad guy gunslingers of the old Wild West, Tiger's clothes matched his mood and game.

His front nine, once again, soon turned into a funeral procession and there would be no resurrection on the back nine. He was appropriately dressed for the occasion.

After starting his first round with bogeys at the first and second, he wouldn't be so trigger happy as to shoot himself in the foot again, would he?

This time he put a bullet through both feet. Double bogey, bogey, three shots dropped, back to even par inside 25 minutes.

He hit a driver at the first but it looked rushed. His ball hooked left, zooming over the spectators, over the crush barriers, coming to rest in the knee-length crop of Weetabix growing in the adjacent 18th fairway.

"Joey, just give me a number," Woods said to his caddie before grabbing a pair of clubs and heading into the rough like a weekend hacker who hasn't a clue of the yardage to the hole from such uncharted territory.

Except weekend hackers can't follow that up with this: "Hey guys, I'm gonna hit over your heads." He took four shots to find the green then two-putted for a double bogey six.

He turned away in disgust, pursed his lips, blew out his cheeks, shut his eyes and no doubt muttered some saucy Anglo-Saxon under his breath.

Just to share the love among his army of fans, he sliced his tee shot off the second tee and again went wandering off into Hoylake's deep jungle.

The only thing that could have made his mood worse would have been to find Ant and Dec greeting him in pith helmets.

"I'm a celebrated golfer, get me out of here."

Tiger's body language suggested he was tired of this nonsense.

He was walking slowly, his hips and shoulders swaying, his bones creaking.

He was hitting his ball so far off line, he could have moseyed into one of Hoylake's pubs in the tented village, thrown his cap on the bar and said: "I'm looking for the man that shot my par."

Bogey at the second. On to the third. His approach raced through the green requiring a delicate chip out of yet more rough.

Just for a second it looked like he had duffed it and there was a collective intake of breath from those crammed around the green.

But he'd judged it perfectly. Par saved, rot stopped. He found his par, all right – 14 of them in a row until his humiliation was complete, hitting out of bounds at the 17th.

There was a giant plastic octopus in the garden of a red brick house by the fifth tee.

It was in the shade, obviously. Woods looked like he would rather be in it, under the sea. He just couldn't find his rhythm. Boom went his driver – 30 yards left again.

Not so much a power fade, more a weak slice. He caught a decent lie in the rough and had a gap to hit for the green but he couldn't have been in a worse spot the way his day was panning out.

He was amongst the fish and chip stalls and jacket potato sellers and the spillover from the Open Arms pub.

Let's just say the majority there hadn't been refreshing themselves on ice cream and lemonade all day.

As if that wasn't noisy enough for Tiger trying to play a miracle shot surrounded by the sozzled with sunburned heads like over-ripe tomatoes, his caddie and the marshals had to yell at everyone to put away their modern-day smart phones.

A reasonable request in many parts of the course, but poor Tiger's ball had landed in the middle of a mobile device zone.

How Woods managed to keep cool and composed in the stifling heat and thrash a ball through a tunnel of overly-excited golf fans with little regard for a rock-hard missile whistling past their ears at 125mph speaks volumes for the genius of the 14-times major champion.

They whooped and hollered and spilled their Stellas as the Man in Black fizzed his stellar shot to the front edge of the green.

But his putt gathered too much pace and came to rest 25 feet from the hole. Another par but it should have been a birdie at the par-five.

Woods has been saying all week that he is getting fitter, stronger and faster after his back surgery at the end of March.

He really is golf's bionic man. They have rebuilt him.

Golf's original Man in Black, nine-time major champion Gary Player, believes all the tweaking with Woods' swing to accommodate his numerous injuries is part of the problem.

"If Tiger was playing anything like he was at his best, there's no-one close to him," Player said.

"But he's not. And these young chaps have come along and they're not scared of him. If he hadn't changed his swing after winning the 2000 US Open by 15 shots, I believe he would have won at least 24 majors by now," said the veteran South African.

But maybe all Tiger needs to do is lighten up and be less uptight. He could start with his outfit.

His black shirt was so figure-hugging, it looked like it could have come from Nike's scuba diving collection.

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