Driving ahead – Tiger or no Tiger

2009-12-19 15:30

 TIGER Woods suffered one of the greatest falls from grace in the ­annals of sport in 2009, with his sex ­scandal rendering a year of historic achievements for golf starkly irrelevant by contrast.

From the one-vehicle crash in the early morning of November 27 that touched off a gossip media firestorm, through his admission of ­infidelity and decision to take ­indefinite leave from golf, Woods’s guarded privacy was shattered.

A year that featured such historic developments as golf’s return to the Olympics and South Korean Yang Yong-Eun becoming the first Asian man to win a major title ended with the golf world wondering about a ­future without Tiger Woods.

“The game of golf is bigger than anybody,” said Australian legend Greg Norman.

“Golf is hurt without him in the field, but the game will go on.”

With reports of a dozen women claiming to have had affairs with Woods, sponsors have begun pulling away. Accenture dropped him altogether and Gillette yanked his advertisements, while others took a wait-and-see approach.

Earl Woods, Tiger’s father and mentor who died in 2006, once said his son’s biggest threats were injury and a bad marriage.

While Woods returned from a knee injury to contend for major ­titles, his infidelity shattered his marriage barely nine months after his wife, Elin Nordegren, gave birth to their second child, son Charlie.

Sponsors began vanishing from golf in 2009 due to the struggling economy and losing Woods, who typically doubles viewership when he plays, could lead to less prize money, fewer tournaments and ­diminished fan interest.

“They always say there’s nobody bigger than the game of golf, but right now in these times it’s him,” US veteran John Daly said.

“We need him probably more than anybody on the tour.”

Woods, a 14-times major champion, decided to halt his pursuit of the record 18 major crowns won by Jack Nicklaus, saying he wanted to focus on becoming a better husband, ­father and person.

Whenever he returns, Woods will face a quest for redemption and a challenge to recapture the form that made him a global sensation; what figures to be the most compelling story in sport, when it happens.

Golf can look forward to the 2016 Rio Olympics, when the sport will ­return after International Olympic Committee officials voted it back ­into the line-up in October.

Golf was staged in 1900 at Paris and in 1904 at St Louis.

But the dizzying plunge of Woods from superstar athlete and marketing juggernaut to ridiculed laughing stock and sponsorship poison overshadowed a dramatic season where 59-year-old Tom Watson almost won the British Open.

Watson missed a tension-packed eight-foot putt on the 72nd hole at Turnberry and lost in a play-off to US veteran Stewart Cink, but his amazing performance in a bid for a sixth British Open brought thrills to viewers worldwide.

“It is a great disappointment and it tears at your gut,” Watson said. “I put myself in a position to win but I didn’t get it done at the last hole.”

Yang won the PGA Championship a month later, outduelling Woods over the last holes for the triumph. Yang became the first man to defeat Woods when the superstar led or shared the lead entering the last round of a major.

“I wasn’t that nervous,” Yang said. “I also have this mentality where I try my best and leave no ­regrets. If I do have courage, that is where it comes from.”

Woods, who turns 34 on December 30, helped the Americans beat Yang and the Internationals to the ­President’s Cup.
US veteran Phil Mickelson, likely to become the focus of attention on the US tour in the absence of Woods, suffered his record fifth runner-up finish at the US Open, losing out to countryman Lucas Glover at rainy Bethpage in June.

Mickelson, who took his own hiatus from golf in 2009 to be with wife Amy and his mother as they battled breast cancer, won the US Tour Championship even as Woods took the overall play-off crown to crack $1 billion in earnings.

Angel Cabrera brought Argentina a long-awaited Masters crown 41 years after countryman Roberto de Vicenzo made the greatest blunder in Masters history, signing an ­incorrect scorecard to hand Bob ­Goalby a title without a play-off.

“De Vicenzo had bad luck. It’s not going to change what happened to him. But this win, to take a major back to Argentina, it’s going to help a lot,” said Cabrera, who won for the first time since taking the 2007 US Open. England’s Lee Westwood fired a final-round 64 to win the ­inaugural Dubai World Championship as well as the European Tour’s Race to ­Dubai, topping the Order of Merit for the second time in his career and the first time since 2000.

Mexico’s Lorena Ochoa edged out South Korean Jiyai Shin to capture LPGA Player of the Year honours.
Shin led the LPGA money list and claimed the Rookie of the Year ­honours. – Sapa-AFP

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