Promised fireworks fizzle

2013-08-24 00:00

JUST about this time last year, the easiest forecast to make for the world of golf in 2013 was that it would be a year of captivating rivalry between Rory McIlroy, the world number one and newly crowned PGA champion, and a resurgent Tiger Woods. The prospect of these two going head to head in a number of tournaments, including the majors, was enough to tempt Nike into plundering the company funds to offer the Northern Irishman an Aladdin’s cave of treasure. As it happened, the much-anticipated confrontation was stillborn.

There is a well-known gimmick to test the ability of four-year-olds to resist short-term gain for greater longer-term rewards. It consists of offering a child a single cake with the reward of another one if the child can resist eating the first one for 20 minutes. This test is supposed to be a predetermination of a child’s life attitude towards foregoing immediate pleasures in favour of the effort required for long-term success.

On this basis, the four-year-old McIlroy would have wolfed down the cake before the moderator left the room. To be fair to him, the size of the pot of gold offered by Nike would have had most people saying “To hell with any hereafter, I’m in.” Only time will tell if Rory has made a Faustian pact with temptation but the early portents have not been promising.

McIlroy has fallen off the number one perch and failed throughout the year to challenge in any major tournament. At times, his golf has been pitiable in comparison with his best of the previous year. He has resembled more the little boy lost rather than the young man who was expected to stride confidently towards his destiny as one of the world’s greatest and richest golfers.

He is still young and his talent is such that 2013 may come to be seen as an aberration, but for the time being he looks like the child who grabbed the cookie too soon. His compensation as a young man, however, is that he has been able to hang onto the flimsy tennis skirt of the lovely Miss Wozniacki, which by most red-blooded male standards is a major achievement for any year.

Tiger Woods, on the other hand, has had an extraordinary year but just not in the tournaments he desperately wants to win — the majors. His desire to become known as the greatest golfer of all time can only be achieved, in his mind, if he beats the Nicklaus record of 18 major victories.

It is beginning to look as though his ambition has become an obsession that now stands in his way. His pressures are created more within himself than by his competitors. None of the winning scores in any of this year’s majors was beyond his compass, but his demons appear to be blocking the release of adrenalin that once inspired him to go for his shots without fear of the consequences. His golf is too safe and timid to withstand the challenges from those who are less inhibited and less frightened that their chances are dribbling away.

It is a truism that the seeds of failure are sown amid those of past successes. It may be that Woods needs to understand that the Open Championships he won by playing risk-free golf have not provided him with the recipe for winning more majors than Jack.

By virtually banning his driver during the majors, Woods has taken too many opportunities out of play. One of his great strengths has been his ability to recover from the potential disaster of a poor shot. He needs to free himself by relying on that strength if his driver gets him into trouble in the knowledge that good drives will bring him more birdie opportunities. No one makes many birdies with putts of 70 feet and more.

The Masters with its absence of rough remains his best opportunity to get his major tally moving. It has to be said that this year he was unlucky at Augusta when his pitch hit the flagstick at the fifteenth and cannoned into the water with all that eventually ensued. It may be that next year’s Masters will be the one that starts Woods off again, but one feels it will only happen if he plays with more aggression.

For me, the golf year has had two disappointments. The first has been the lack of competitiveness of the South Africans.

It is difficult to recall a tournament when anyone other than Brandon Grace has been in a position to win on the last day. I am sure it is not the case, but our guys look content to cruise along picking up the big cheques that now exist for minor placings without unduly stressing themselves.

The other disappointment has been the poor coverage of women’s golf that still exists on our television screens. There was nothing last weekend on the Solheim Cup, which is the biennial match between the women’s teams of the USA and Europe. This has become a huge fixture in the world of golf and is much bigger now than the Ryder Cup was 30 years ago.

One might understand SuperSport’s reluctance to cover the Solheim Cup live in a weekend when they were spoilt for choice However, there was little else apart from the rugby championship, the athletics from Moscow, some tennis and the English Premier League, which has resumed after what seems like a 10-day break. It is little wonder that women’s sport struggles to attract sponsorship when television stations are reluctant to broadcast it.

The year has again left us with four different major champions, none of whom it might be said was a lucky winner. Three of them are first time major winners, with Phil Mickelson the third successive 40- plus-year-old winner of The Open.

Maybe there is more time for Tiger Woods than he and the rest of us think.

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