Chipping In - Majesty, misbehaviour and microdiscectomy make the headlines
Chippping In is a weekly column by Golf Journalist Nick Bonfield
I’m sure many people will look at Sergio Garcia’s record with a 54-hole lead in WGC/Major events and question his ability to deal with pressure. I agree, he probably should have converted once or twice in the past, but his Ryder Cup record should go a long way to dispelling the myth that he’s unable to produce on the big stage. Sometimes, you have to recognize the sheer brilliance of individuals. I genuinely believe the Spaniard would have claimed his first WGC had anyone else in the field been chasing him on Sunday. Sadly, that player was Rory McIlroy: a latent all-time-great at the very peak of his powers.
Yes, some will point to the fact that Garcia only required a two-under-par 68 in scoreable conditions, but McIlroy’s start made his task so much more difficult. He made tap-in birdies at the first and second and followed it with two more at three and five, missing a short birdie putt in between. From there, it was an engrossing battle, but Garcia simply couldn’t find enough birdies coming home. The stand-out facet of McIlroy’s performance was his driving, and you have to say he’s the best in the world by some margin when he’s on form. Garcia is by no means short, but the Northern Irishman was anywhere from 20-50 yards beyond him on every hole. Firestone is a golf course made for long, straight hitters, as is Valhalla, host of next week’s USPGA Championship. If McIlroy carries the same form into the PGA, I genuinely can’t see anyone beating him.
There couldn’t have been a greater inverse proportion between the stock of McIlroy and Tiger Woods on a defining day in Ohio. Woods spoke extensively upon his return about how great it was to be able to hit hard at the golf ball with no pain whatsoever. Well, that didn’t last long. He jarred his back on the 2nd hole and was forced to withdraw before he made the turn for home. It was truly sad to see a disconsolate Woods trudge off the golf course; a global icon whose body is in pieces after years and years of torment. As they say, success often comes at a price.
But it wasn’t just his injury that was so troublesome to observe, it was also his ability to hit shots an 18-handicapper would be embarrassed by. It’s simply a mark of the man he is that he managed to stay on the right side of par for so long. Woods must now take stock of his situation and reassess. In my mind, lulls are inevitable when you’ve been at the pinnacle of the sport for almost 20 years. It’s human nature. These periods can be brought out by injury, issues in personal life, recognition that other things exist outside of the sporting arena, the monotony of routine, the difficulty of motivating yourself when you’ve achieved so much, and others.
I’ve no doubt Woods is desperate to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record, but he needs to figure out a way to win again. In my view, he needs an extended spell on the sidelines. He needs to long for the game again. Sadly, I don’t see that as an option with his various sponsors and his global significance to the game of golf. Once again, it begs the question: is one man bigger than the sport he plays? The answer is no. I’d love to see Woods take a sabbatical, return at the age of 40 when he’s figured out how to drive the ball in the fairway, when he’s got his old hunger back and when he’s reevaluated what drives him as a human being. The tables have turned on Woods – he’s no longer a player with unmatched ability and driving distance and he no longer possesses the same aura that defined him during his halcyon years.
I love watching Tiger play, I love the respect he commands and the buzz he creates at every tournament, but I’d rather see him go away for a while, return refreshed and compete for many years to come than come back in a few weeks, continue to underperform and retire as a demoralised and disillusioned player who’s a mere shadow of his former self.
The Johnson debacle
Dustin Johnson released a statement before the start of the WGC-Bridgestone invitational explaining he was about to embark on a spell away from golf, to “improve my mental health, physical well-being and emotional foundation.” Inevitably, this led to speculation that he’d been banned from the PGA Tour for breaching its anti-doping policy (rumours continue to circulate about his alleged liberal use of cocaine and marijuana), something the tour vehemently denies. You can’t help but feel these things wouldn’t happen if the tour were more transparent. A simple statement in immediate response to Dustin’s would have quelled suspicions, restricted defamatory reports and allowed a player who’s clearly in a dark place to settle into his personal rehabilitation without undue scrutiny. As it happens, the exact opposite has happened.
By contrast, if someone has done wrong, they should be named and shamed. There are reports that the PGA Tour has inflicted drugs bans in the past, but players have been allowed to mask these as periods of injury. It’s one thing being respectful of privacy, but these players act as role models to thousands. The tour really needs to reevaluate its policy and reveal if players are banned on drugs offences. Withholding significant information from media outlets, golf fans and anyone else to ‘protect’ players just fosters mistrust and helps build a negative perception of a key – if not the most influential - organisation in the world of golf. The PGA Tour’s refusal to be proactive has resulted in widespread criticism, not something the game of golf needs.
Ogilvy back from the abyss
It was great to see Geoff Ogilvy, someone who, by all accounts, is a very nice and genuine man, return to the winner’s circle after almost five years without a victory. It’s been a real struggle for the Australian in recent times, but his class has never been in doubt. So let’s hope he kicks on from here and returns to the form that saw him reach seventh in the Official World Golf Ranking in 2006.
On a related note, Ogilvy recently gave a candid insight into his struggles in a column for Golf Australia, which was published just before his win. It’s a fascinating article about the nature of professional golf and I’d strongly urge everyone to have a read. It can be found here: http://www.golfaustralia.com.au/ogilvys-formula-for-winning-again/
Next week, 98 of the world’s top 100 golfers will be in Kentucky for the USPGA Championship, the final major of 2014.
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