Tiger's win ignites debate again
Battle between the doubters and true believers will heat up
VANCOUVER - From the Twitter account of @GraemeMcDowell: “Was thinking of adding @FarmersInsOpen to my schedule next year. Maybe need to reconsider. Tiger owns the place. #tigerwoodsshow”
With due respect to the chatty Northern Irishman (a golf scribe’s best friend), if touring pros were to stay away from all the courses Tiger Woods owns, or has owned, they would have to play a lot of their golf in places like Honolulu and Hilton Head, and Hartford, Hereford and Hampshire and ... well, Canada.
Because Woods owns more than just Torrey Pines, where he won the Farmers Insurance event Monday in a cakewalk, his eighth victory (including the 2008 U.S. Open) at the scenic public track atop the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean north of San Diego.
In fact, of the 75 PGA Tour victories he has amassed since turning pro in 1996, nearly half -- 36 of them -- have been achieved on just six golf courses: eight at Torrey, seven each at Bay Hill and Firestone (Akron, Ohio), five each at Cog Hill (Chicago) and Muirfield Village (Columbus, Ohio), and four at Augusta National.
Take that for what it’s worth: probably what it says is that, other than majors, where he can’t very well just skip one because he doesn’t like the venue, he is successful enough to be able to play a limited schedule and cherry-pick mostly courses where he knows he’ll do well.
No. 75 was bereft of drama, given his six-stroke lead on the field with 11 holes to play when darkness fell on Sunday evening, though like any Woods round when he’s failing to keep his tee shots on the planet, it was not lacking adventure.
The foregone conclusion didn’t stop the Golf Channel and CBS from insisting on an 11:10 a.m. resumption of play to gain a larger audience for 11 holes that took most of a glacial four (4) hours to complete.
But the ridiculous pace of play (not Woods’s fault) was probably good business for the TV networks, just as it’s good business for announcers Ian Baker-Finch and Nick Faldo to predict that a win early in his season -- it was Woods’s 2013 PGA Tour debut, though he played (and missed the cut) last week in Abu Dhabi -- sets him up for the kind of mammoth year that winning at Torrey Pines has kick-started many times before.
Well, maybe. The whole “He’s back!” or “He’s lost it!” debate, staged several times a year since the greatest player of his era ran his SUV into that fire hydrant in November of 2009 -- after which he “gave two years away due to injuries and irresponsibility,” to quote Golf Channel’s Tim Rosaforte -- is re-ignited each time he wins a tournament. So it will once again be alive in the nine weeks leading up to this year’s Masters, which really is the first place either side can have anything to say with certainty.
Because as surely as he is, on any given week, capable of beating everyone in the world, none of those given weeks has happened in a major championship since June of 2008. And when he’s sneaking up on five years since his last big one -- the only wins by which he measures himself -- he knows better than anybody, whatever he may say in public, that there is no such thing as “He’s back” until he’s done it again, under pressure, on the biggest stage.
Until then, it’s just a hissing match between his “wanna bet?” true believers and his “told you so” doubters.
Lately, especially in majors, pressure has not been his friend. Monday, even without any, he limped home with wild drives and improbable recoveries and dropped shots, and an eight-stroke cushion became seven, then six, then five, then four.
And even so, when they added up the scores, he had shot a final-round 72, rarely hitting a fairway, which is the difference between him, and, say, Ottawa’s Brad Fritsch, who would have been paired in the final round with Woods if weather hadn’t forced the same groups that played the third round to stay paired for the fourth.
Even without the Tiger Effect dragging him down, Fritsch struggled to a 75 to drop from second alone to a tie for ninth with, among others, Graham DeLaet of Weyburn, Sask., who got home in 71.
They’ll still cash a nice cheque, but the difference between second and T-9 is about half a million clams.
Monday qualifier Adam Hadwin of Abbotsford, B.C., was looking at a top-10 finish after 54 holes but collapsed utterly Sunday -- he was 12-over-par through 15 holes when he withdrew with a sore wrist.
That left the final Canadian survivor of the cut, Mike Weir, who opened with a 66 on the easier North Course but on the South shot 75-73-76 to go from TV face time on Friday to a tie for 68th -- and the extra 600 yards on the South probably tells you all you need to know.
Long courses are not Tiger’s problem, which is why he has dominated Firestone and Torrey Pines and Cog Hill and Bay Hill and Augusta (though not so much lately).
Still, even mired in his major championship stall, he is three-quarters of the way to 100 PGA Tour wins now, and he’s 37 years old. He has already surpassed Jack Nicklaus’s 73 wins, and is seven shy of Sam Snead’s record 82.
He will have 36 more chances -- nine years’ worth of majors, assuming he stays healthy -- to get the four victories he needs to tie, five to beat, Nicklaus’s record of 18 by the age, 46, when the Golden Bear won his last.
He has averaged better than one victory in every four starts for his entire career, and his win percentage in majors is just under one in four.
Done? Not by a long, sideways shot.
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