Does golf need Tiger Woods?

2014-05-17 00:00

A YEAR ago the answer would have been an unqualified ‘yes’, but now? The developing impression is that the game is doing well without him. It is true that the television ratings for the Masters were down on previous years, but the tournament itself was intriguing from start to finish. In the end, it produced a worthy winner in the form of the dexterous Bubba Watson. More importantly, perhaps, the 20-year-old Jordan Spieth was the youngest runner-up in the history of the Masters.

Spieth has just come off the Players Championship where he was in contention right up to the beginning of the final back nine despite some stellar golf in the first two rounds from the eventual winner, Martin Kaymer. In fact, Spieth has been the story of American golf ever since he broke through with a PGA victory in the 2013 season. He has been in contention so often that it seems just a matter of time before he becomes a multiple winner on that tour if not a holder of one of golf’s big four major tournaments.

These are early days for Spieth and golf is full of prodigies who have failed to reach the heights predicted for them. He seems, however, to be a well-grounded young man who has the virtue of being respectful, polite and considerate towards his fellow competitors. He is not alone in being a world-class golfer who manages to play at the highest level while also being a thoroughly decent human being.

This is the thread that ties most of those golfers who have recently tasted success in golf’s big tournaments. Last year the four majors were won by Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Phil Mickelson and Jason Dufner and the previous year the successful golfers were Bubba Watson, Webb Simpson, Ernie Els and Rory McIlroy. One cannot argue with the quality of these men either as golfers or as men. Their successes have adorned the game.

It is arguable that Mickelson’s victory was one of the most popular in the 153 years of the Open championship. His golf on the final afternoon was stunning in its brilliance. He proved to be a charming and gracious winner. Mickelson’s win then has added to the lustre of next month’s U.S. Open where he will be trying to become only the sixth golfer to complete what is known as a “career grand slam” of all four of golf’s majors. Mickelson has thus far collected six runner-up finishes in the U.S. Open, the only major to have eluded him.

Then there is Rory McIlroy, who is probably the most gifted golfer of his generation. He already has two major titles locked away despite his relatively tender age. He has recently been distracted by off course matters not the least of which has been his relationship with the gorgeous Miss Wozniacki. Neither of these superstars has exactly prospered on the course or court since they have been together. The two are now set to marry later this year, after which McIlroy may be settled enough to fulfil his rich promise.

Marriage, of course, may bring its own set of problems, but in the mean time McIlroy remains the golfer that everyone wants to see. Of late, his golf has been a mixture of the brilliant and bad, but it may only be a matter of time before he puts it all together. Even at less than his best, McIlroy is compellingly watchable.

The South Afrcan-born Justin Rose is another of golf’s class acts who is in top form. Rose turned pro at the age of 17 only to miss the cut in his first 21 tournaments. Throughout this period he retained his polite, charming demeanour and wry sense of humour. He knew that he was serving an apprenticeship and he neglected no opportunity to learn. Now entrenched in the world’s top five golfers, he is in the prime of his life and set to reap the rewards of his patience.

Kaymer, who won last week’s Players championship, is another steely individual who has not allowed a couple of rough years to deflect him from his ambitions as a golfer.

No one who saw his moving victory speech on Sunday evening could have failed to be impressed by the German’s humble and thoughtful attitude towards life.

There is no need to say anything about golf’s imminent new number one, Adam Scott, who may be the most charming of the lot.

These are just some of the young men who are set to be the stars of the next decade. They also share one thing in common. They are not overawed by Tiger Woods. Woods does not have the power to intimidate them in the manner in which he diminished Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, Colin Montgomerie and others. Woods has lost the aura that once made him well nigh invincible. The new generation does not believe that he “owns” the majors.

It is not just that the best golfers are no longer afraid of Woods. They can see that he is not the player he was. Where his putting was infallible, it is now average. There are a number of professionals who drive the ball further and straighter than he does.

He no longer demolishes par fives with birdies and eagles. In his fruitless search for perfection his swing has become mechanical rather than free flowing. He can no longer summon the magic to appear as if on call.

It is also that he is reduced as a man. His unpleasant habits on and off the course, the swearing, the spitting, the gambling, the womanising, the curt, charmless and self aggrandising interviews have all contributed to the perception that Woods is a flawed man rather than the towering creation of an erstwhile marketing team.

The Woods era is not over, but it is fading. Golf should be happy that the wherewithal to move on without him is at hand.

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