Golf: Message for Woods in Rocca's resilience

Ken Jones At Valderrama
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The Independent Online
One of the most appealing things about golf is that youth has no dominion. Until the suppleness or the eyesight goes, age seldom has a bearing on the outcome.

Costantino Rocca, at 40, is 19 years older than Tiger Woods and on the first tee here at Valderrama he looked it. Another notable difference is that Woods was born to be one of the game's great stars, while the Italian might easily have spent his entire working life in a box factory.

Watching them prepare to drive off in the third match of the Ryder Cup singles, you could not help thinking about that and what was going on in Rocca's imagination. There was some heavy European firepower to come, but would his match be important to the outcome?

Then there was the memory of playing alongside Woods in the last round of this year's Masters. Rocca shot 75 to Woods' 69 and at the end 15 shots separated him from the boy champion.

What you have to say about Rocca, however, is that he lacks nothing in resilience and plays with the air of a man who is grateful for the good things that have happened to him.

Two victories meant that Rocca could look back on a pretty good Ryder Cup, while Woods had been playing as though he could not wait to put in a great deal of practice. The only American to appear in every match, he had only one win and a half to show for his efforts.

It was soon evident that Woods would need his very best form to bring about the improvement American supporters were hoping for, because after only three holes Rocca was already two up and looking as though he had the young American's measure. The fact that Woods was until recently the world No 1 clearly meant little to the man from Bergamo.

In any case, Woods was soon beset by technical problems, sending a wedged approach at the first so left that he needed a lucky bounce from a television gantry to find the green. "Well, my man, that's some way to start but anything as long as it gets the job done," Woods said to his caddie Mike "Fluff" Cowan. It didn't. Rocca one up and beaming.

After going two down at the third, Woods had one of those experiences golfers can do without when things are not going well. Some boldness was called for and in that department the American never needs any bidding. The green was a long way off but with his great length Woods was capable of getting there. He probably would done but a mobile telephone went off in the gallery, causing the collapse of his backswing.

After glaring across the fairway, Woods set up again only for his concentration to be further affected by a wasp. When he finally got the shot off he immediately flung an arm left to warn of wayward direction. The hole was halved, but at the next, Rocca, with his captain, Severiano Ballesteros, now in attendance, struck another blow for the Europeans with a dead-eye approach that made his birdie a formality. Three up and an encouraging pat from Ballesteros.

The further Rocca went with his measured gait- more that of a tenor taking the stage than a professional athlete - the more people picked up on the chant "Forza, Forza", which is most commonly associated with the urging of Italy's national football team. England will hear it when they play a World Cup qualifying match in Rome next week and doubtless plenty of their supporters will supply fresh evidence of xenophobia.

However, in the eyes of the many British golf fans in attendance yesterday, Rocca was a heroic European. There is nothing permanent in this, but it is something dedicated jingoists in the employ of popular prints should think about.

Although Rocca was restrained in his responses, he enjoyed the attention. Perhaps he thought about snide remarks made at The Belfry in 1993 when his defeat by Davis Love, after being one up with two to play, kept the Ryder Cup in American hands.

When a bogey at the 16th left Woods defeated by 4 and 2, all Rocca could hear was the roar of a Ryder Cup crowd. Sweeter for the possibility that he was hearing it for the last time.