With Tiger Woods unlikely to play competitive golf in between Pebble Beach and Royal Portrush, David Livingstone believes a “re-energised” Woods will benefit from the break ahead of The 148th Open…
It is easy to understand the concern about Tiger Woods’ apparent decision not to play a tournament between the final two majors this season, but I think it’s good for him and also for The 148th Open next month.
A fit, strong, refreshed Woods is a more attractive proposition than a weary Tiger, feeling like a tired old man of golf having pushed himself to play in a PGA Tour event just to be competitive.
Even a win in any of the events leading up to The Open wouldn’t be a guarantee of him arriving in confident mood at Royal Portrush.
Who can forget those images of a worn-out Tiger at the Ryder Cup in France the week after his magnificent victory in the Tour Championship in Atlanta. Since then, it has become clear that Tiger Woods and his bionic body do not fit any of the established patterns for top-level golf.
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I said in these pages early this year that we should treasure every time we see him play in tournaments because nobody knows how long he’ll be able to carry on with a fused back which changes the dynamics of his whole body.
Woods has since been very open about his problems, saying the stress and pain from his back has to go somewhere else and will continue to limit his ability to play on a regular basis. And yet, when he defied medical science and sporting logic to win The Masters, we tended to get carried away with the idea that it could be just a matter of time before he overtakes Jack Nicklaus’ tally of 18 major wins.
Then, once again, we saw distressing pictures of Tiger hobbling around a week after his Augusta National glory, clearly unable to play any more competitive golf before the PGA Championship the following month.
The fact that he missed the cut at that second major was largely attributed to his lack of tournament preparation, even though there were many more elements of explanation, not least the surprisingly cool weather which wouldn’t have helped Tiger’s condition.
When a more conventional approach to the US Open – a top-10 finish at The Memorial – produced a decent week at Pebble Beach, the consensus was that this was the way forward for Tiger. In other words, four weeks off before the PGA equals a missed cut, one week off before the US Open produces a near top-20 finish.
We can all see the logic of that but, as I said earlier, this is a player who nowadays doesn’t conform to established patterns. The new norm for Woods is nothing normal at all. Like an old boxer in his twilight years, Tiger has to roll with the punches and make the most of any situation.
He’s doing that right now by having a family holiday expected to be followed by some serious practice in the warmth of Florida. In an ideal world, he’d have committed to a PGA Tour event and then headed to Ireland for some links golf before getting to Portrush. In his current physical state, that little lot would have him turning up for The Open with a walking frame.
Instead, if he does take a complete break and has no unexpected setbacks, he’ll arrive in Portrush re-energised and as ready as he can be for unpredictable weather and uncertain conditions.
Of course, they’ll say he’s never seen Royal Portrush before but, then again, neither have half the field. Also, the top players in The Open betting are all unfamiliar with the course, except for local-favourite Rory McIlroy.
In any case, there’s never been a faster learner on any course in the world than Tiger Woods. I remember he once turned up at a European Tour event in Germany, never having seen the course and slightly dismayed to have broken his driver in practice.
Always a cocky young buck, he winked at me on the practice green and said: “Don’t worry, I think I can win round here with a three-wood.”
And he did!
Another place he didn’t really need a driver was Royal Liverpool, where he won The Open in 2006 and, again, it was a course that was totally new to him. So much so that on the Saturday before the Championship, he had to ask Derek Lawrenson of the Daily Mail: “Any idea where the first tee is?”