Tiger may still surprise us

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He may yet make fools of us and pick up a 15th title of a career in which he won his Majors between 1997 and 2008.

It would be foolish to write off a man who is yet to turn 40. But Woods is beginning to look old.

All those years of pushing his body to the limit, driven by the desire – as if he was born to be the one to chase down Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors – seem to have caught up with him.

Watching him battle his way to one-over par in the first round of a Masters tournament that he has won four times, was painful for the most part.

Woods was not only fighting Augusta National course, but also the inner demons circling inside his head.

There must be a lot of mental turmoil for one of the great sportsmen of this era.

He wants to believe he has the same game that dominated his era. His frustration was evident when spraying drives, chastising himself with a couple of “dumbass” comments and even a “Goddammit”, as another errant tee-shot found trouble.

Woods hasn’t won a Major since the 2008 US Open. And he has been a shadow of his former self since that “fire hydrant” incident outside his marital home in late 2009.

While he might have picked up the debris that engulfed his private life, his golf has suffered. Going into the Masters he was ranked No 111 in the world, and humbled by recurring injury and a case of the yips.

Sport is unforgiving no matter what level one plays it, but the life of a professional in an individual sport means every error is amplified. More so when your name happens to be Tiger Woods.

Yet, the American genius was born to entertain. He has a giant ego – and that is understandable given his success and refusal to settle for second best – and when it comes to the media he has little patience.

In the build-up to the Masters he told the media: “I read what you write, but don’t take it seriously. I am the one who hits the shots, who knows where my game is at. I know what’s going through my head when I’m on the golf course, not you.” And it is hard to argue with him on that score.

The media joins the rest of the world in watching Woods struggle to recapture the greatness. Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major successes appears several universes away. Perhaps Woods comforts himself with the fact that Nicklaus was 46 when he won the last of his Majors, the 1986 Masters. That would give Woods seven years to roll back the clock. And Nicklaus – as if he was telling Woods, “kid, I still got it at the age of 75” – produced a hole-in-one at the Masters Par 3 contest the day before the main event started.

Woods remains capable of pulling a few aces out of the bag himself. There are still likely to be plenty good days at the office, but he doesn’t simply need good days, when he can shoot in the low-to-mid 60s. He needs good weeks, being able to string four rounds together that are collectively better than anyone else in the field.

Given the talent that is out there, plus the presence of Rory McIlroy, who is a “better than average” world No 1 – the context is that there have been poorer world No 1s – Woods is going to find it difficult to add to his list of Majors. He will not go quietly, though. Watching him you can see there is this refusal to believe his career as a Major winner is over. He remains the biggest drawcard in golf, and the crowds adore him.

Yet, even though he is still only 39, which is not old for a golfer, Woods looks in pain, as much mentally as his body tells him physically. He looks tormented at times, and while it will bring him plenty of sympathy from the galleries, it is not going to help him shoot the low numbers. – Sunday Tribune

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