Tiger Tamers: Woods is back, but the UK's finest can defy his bid to be Master
09:11 GMT, 27 March 2012
All set for Tiger Woods versus the UK for the Masters at Augusta next week No doubt the top Aussies, South Africans and Phil Mickelson in particular will have something to say about that.
But after the most fabulous four weeks of golf Florida has ever known, the state of the game right now is all about Tiger and Rory, Luke and Lee, Justin and G-Mac, in the tussle for the green jacket.
Trust Woods to come running to the rescue of American golf on a truly memorable Sunday at Bay Hill to prevent a Florida Slam for the boys from the UK. Only Tiger stood between them and complete domination of the game in the Sunshine State.
Back to winning ways: Tiger Woods won at Bay Hill
Parochialism aside, who could fail to recognise the beauty in this storyline, the one that rendered the most incredible pre-Masters build-up complete Only the most bitter would begrudge Woods and fail to admire the strength of character shown to see his way back into the sun.
Imagine what it must have been like with every expert on television lining up to say you are working on the wrong things on the practice ground and your new swing is rubbish. Imagine lying on the sofa at home with your knee broken, your achilles worn, your reputation in tatters and trying to envisage a way back to the top.
That impervious mind, the one that brought him 14 majors, saved him. That unimpeachable work ethic, the willingness to spend countless hours working on his new swing, was the foundation stone. So he struggled with the putter. How typical of Woods not to go looking for the weak man’s crutch, the belly putter, and put in the time sorting it out instead.
Leader of the pack: Luke Donald returned to World No 1 last week
In good form: Rory McIlroy climbed to the top of the world rankings earlier this year – only for Donald to regain his spot
Credit his coach, Sean Foley, as well. What a five-week run he has had, with victories for Hunter Mahan at the Accenture Match Play, Justin Rose at the Cadillac Championship and now Tiger at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.
Yet on Sunday night, there was no triumphalism.
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With the 18th hole a sea of people and nearly all of them chanting ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ Foley said this was just the start.
‘Tomorrow is another day, we still have a long way to go and Tiger knows that,’ he said.
‘I’m so pleased for him. He’s putting in the work and will continue to do so.’
After all that had happened in the 30 long months since his last victory, you might have thought this one would have particular significance for Woods. But one of the reasons he has been so successful is he has never thought like that.
When his ex-wife Elin wanted to organise a party to celebrate the first success under his former coach Hank Haney, Woods told her: ‘Winning is what we do, E. Winning is what’s supposed to happen.’
This was his 72nd win on the US Tour — a nice golfing number — and leaves him needing just one more to tie Jack Nicklaus’s haul, with Sam Snead the all-time record holder on 82. Barring no more injuries, expect that to go sometime around the 2014 Ryder Cup.
It is the Nicklaus total of 18 majors,
though — Woods has 14 — that now comes back into focus, and whether he
can start making inroads once more after a hiatus lasting almost four
Woods will go to the Masters as
favourite and justifiably so given that, with four wins, he has four more green jackets than all his challengers from the UK combined.
there is no reason for the leading players from these shores to go
there feeling cowed, like so many did in the past following a Tiger
victory at Bay Hill.
Great Brit: Lee Westwood will look to get his name on the Masters title
Woods gave an awesome display of
driving but the return of his ball-striking has led to uncertainty on
occasion as to how far he hits his iron shots, and you have no chance if
you do not consistently land it on the number at Augusta.
That unerring ability to chip stone dead from practically anywhere has also been slow to return.
he got enough time this week to fit all the pieces together The fact
there is room for doubt simply adds to the fascination.
In top form: Justin Rose will look to win his first Major
Over the past month, in turn, we have seen Rory McIlroy beat Woods to become world No 1, Justin Rose beat the world to win in Miami, Luke Donald win to reclaim the top spot and now Woods’s seventh success in Arnold Palmer’s event.
All roads lead, therefore, to what might be the most eagerly anticipated Masters of them all. Tiger versus the UK Thank goodness we have only a week to wait.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK:
‘Heading home now and I can’t stop smiling. Thanks to Otown fans and everyone watching for all the love. Get well soon, Arnie.’
Woods tweets his happiness on returning to the winner’s circle. As for
Arnold Palmer, the 82-year-old was due to be released from hospital
yesterday after being detained overnight as a precaution owing to high
blood pressure. Arnie’s due at Augusta next week to hit the ceremonial
first blow. Anyone doubt he’ll make it
G-Mac and Poulter show signs of life
Relegated to the undercard on Sunday they might have been, but it was good to see strong signs of life at the Arnold Palmer Invitational from runner-up Graeme McDowell and third-placed Ian Poulter.
G-Mac has that look in his eye again, the one he had before embarking on his banner year in 2010, and don’t be surprised if he joins all the other UK golfing winners this year before the season is much older.
‘I’m really excited about my game again and this performance sets up my spring schedule perfectly,’ said McDowell, who joins Lee Westwood, Paul Casey and others at the Houston Open this week.
Back to life: Graeme McDowell was runner up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational
Poulter is back in business too after his bout of pneumonia and all the talk regarding him being ‘distracted’.
Speaking of distractions, he was at it again on Monday, although no-one would criticise him this time. Poults was hosting his own charity day with the aim of raising a six-figure sum for a Florida children’s hospital.