A major change: at last we can see the trees for the Woods
Sunday 30 December 2007
It was the year when the European major drought finally, blessedly, came to an end. It was the year when Ireland's 60-year wait was made to seem well worthy of the torment on an emotion-charged Sunday evening. It was the year when Seve waved goodbye, when Rory said hello. But however much appears to change in golf, it always stays the same. For this was the Year of the Tiger. Aren't they all?
Not that 2007 was vintage Woods. In fact, a haul of one major out of four is decidedly vinegary for a golfer whose ambition stretches out so eye-strainingly that every other professional's seems a piddling par three in comparison. But there's the thing. Even when he is operating a few feet below his very best, his rivals remain dwarfed to the point of irrelevance. The 32-year-old (he celebrates his birthday today) won seven US Tour titles, his 13th major and collected two more World Golf Championships. Meanwhile, his lead at the head of the world rankings actually increased.
There was also the little matter of the FedEx Series, the inaugural staging of the season-ending spectacular that was supposed to bring the curtain down with all the drama that the American networks crave. Did someone say drama? Phil Mickelson did provide some resistance in the second event of four, but otherwise Tiger experienced more drama on the way to his local cash machine (not the most inappropriate of analogies, as he picked up more than 7 million for that little stroll). The powers that be can try all they want to effect a thrilling shoot-out; the truth is, if Tiger's aim is in then the bloodshed will be over before the fifth pace is taken.
So golf should breathe a hefty sigh of relief that the very nature of its sport means Mr Perfect cannot always be perfect. The pack caught up to a degree, so an inspired Zach Johnson at Augusta and an even more godly Angel Cabrera at the US Open could consign Woods to a disastrous runner-up berth ("It's that new swing he's finished!"; "No, it's the arrival of his first baby his hunger's gone!").
Then there are those courses that allow the balls to drop with an order verging on Camelotian logic. The Guinevere of these is, of course, Carnoustie, which by some margin produced the major of the year, if not the decade so far. Purists will scream that the success of Padraig Harrington was fortuitous as he visited the Barry Burn not once, but twice on the final hole of regulation play, but let them howl while the rest of us hang on for the white-knuckled ride.
Carnoustie finished as it began with disbelief. First the teary-eyed retirement of Seve Ballesteros, then the dreamy-eyed debut of the Ulster teenager Rory McIlroy. True, Woods was not himself, but did that devalue our entertainment? Did it mean we felt guilty, perched on the edge of the armchair? Or should we always turn off in self-righteousness if the Tiger isn't eight clear?
So we no longer have to fill in the blank in the sentence "xx years without a European major". Well, not for a little while anyway. Padraig saw to that. Elsewhere, Justin Rose saw to it that the British golfing year was far from a dead loss. His Order of Merit triumph may not mean much to some, but his rise from outside the world's top 50 to sixth surely should. The English fairways genuinely never have had it so good, with five of their rank in the world's top 25. There, that hasn't happened before. Take that, Mr Woods.
Reasons to be cheerful
1. The Open is back at Birkdale. Last time it was held there, in 1998, a 17-year-old amateur stunned the world. Whatever happened to Justin Rose?
2. The Ryder Cup is in Kentucky and Europe are going for their sixth win out of seven. "The tournament needs America to win this time." Yawn.
3. If Tiger Woods wins all four majors (20-1, Stan James) he will draw within one of Jack Nicklaus' record haul of 18. The wait could soon be over.
4. Michelle Wie will not play in any men's tournaments. So she can concentrate on missing cuts at women's events.
5. Colin Montgomerie marries for a second time. He will go back to being a carefree, mild-mannered gentleman. Or not.
6. It is the last year in which the European Tour begins before the old one has finished. Hip, hip... (and shhhh about the "European" bit).
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