Tiger's Open chances look slim as age catches up with him
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
EVEN before he missed the cut at Congressional, Tiger Woods was admitting that he is no longer the player he once was - not that he needed to tell us.
Once regarded as a huge hitter, he is now among the also-rans from the tee when it comes to distance. And is in a class by himself when it comes to accuracy with his driver in his hands. To follow Woods in a tournament is to require the wearing of a crash helmet and fully body armour in order to avoid a trip to the nearest casualty department.
Woods says that he sometimes feels like an old man when he watches the likes of Dustin Johnson strike a golf ball.
It is also fair to say that he no longer possesses the magic touch with the putter that once set him apart. There was a time when you would bet your life on Tiger holing a 12-foot putt. If you did so now, you may well end up on life support. The stroke looks the same as it ever did, but he struggles to get the ball to the hole. And when he does run it three feet by, there is little confidence that he will hole the return.
“I feel old. The Chinese kid [Guan Tianlang] who qualified for The Masters last year [aged 14] was born after I won the tournament for the first time and that is just not cool,” he said. “That is what is coming: the next generation are taller, bigger and more physical - these kids in college, all the long-hitters are 6ft 2ins to 6ft 4ins.
“The difference as I have aged is I can’t play the way I used to. I was number two in driving distance for a number of years just behind (John) Daly - things have changed dramatically.
“I have to rely on different parts of my game like strategy and course management. The amount of shots I have learned over the years has allowed me to be as consistent as I have been over the course of my career.
“The old adage is with age comes wisdom and I have certainly become more patient, especially having two little ones has definitely taught me a lot of patience, and it has carried on the golf course.
“I remember all the early years on tour when I would run 30 miles a week and still go play tournament golf - and I was winning but not realising how much damage I was doing.
“Now I have to pick my spots when I can and cannot push. When I was younger I didn’t need treatment. That is no longer the case.
“But I’m pain-free - it’s been a very long time, probably a good two years since I’ve felt this way. I came back four weeks earlier than we thought I could,” Woods said.
Incredibly, Tiger has not had a competitive outing before playing in The Open at Hoylake, a venue where he won in 2006, using his driver just once in 72 holes. Since the big stick is the one that is causing him most problems, you might be forgiven for thinking that Woods has a fighting chance of a remarkable victory in northwest England.
Think again. In 2006, Hoylake had been baked hard by weeks of sunshine and the ball rolled for miles. The hot weather also meant that the normally penal rough was virtually non-existent. Things will be very different this time. Like many parts of England, the northwest has seen a lot of rain in recent weeks, and that means the rough is thick and juicy. It also means there will be minimal roll on the fairways.
Woods can try hitting only irons and fairway woods from the tees if he likes, but if he does so he will give a hugfe advantage to the rest of the field. So he needs to straighten out his driving and given that he has been unable to do so for three or four years now, the chances of achieving that between now and Hoylake are slim to non-existent. And he can't win The Open unless he can rediscover his putting touch.
On top of all that, the conditions at Muirfield last year, when the sun shone all week and the wind hardly rose above a zephyr, are highly unlikely to be repeated at Hoylake. Tiger for The Open? Sorry, but it's just not going to happen.
Derek Clements is a sports journalist with a particular passion for golf with over 12 years of experience covering golf and other sports including Chief Sub-Editor on the sports desk of The Sunday Times. To contact Derek email direct via [email protected]
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