James Lawton: Woods exhibits total control despite tempest of emotion
This was a victory born not in the heart of a great sportsman but in his mind
Monday 24 July 2006
There were a few moments at Hoylake yesterday when Tiger Woods offered hints of mortality, even humanity, but they were banished soon enough. By the time he completed the final strides to his third Open title, and 11th major, he was resolutely back in character: he was a golf massacre which had waited patiently to happen and, in the end, could no more be contained than a gust of wind blowing in across the water from the Welsh hills.
No doubt the Tiger has had more spectacular triumphs and will enjoy more of them in the future which now beckons him to the record of 18 majors held by Jack Nicklaus.
Certainly there have been times when he has been obliged to produce more of the pyrotechnics of the sport he has treated as a personal empire ever since he overwhelmed its aristocracy at Augusta nine years ago. There were not so many shots yesterday to make you gasp as such, as Ernie Els, Sergio Garcia, and last of all, the superbly gallant and emotionally charged Chris DiMarco, allowed the inevitable Woods victory to lap around them like a tide that could just not be stemmed.
There was, however, another wonder and it was not about the course of the day but the nature of a career, the meaning of it and the awesome weight of it.
This was the Woods victory which was born not in the heart and the spirit of a great sportsman but in his mind. His passion flickered to the surface once or twice, it is true, but this was not what the extraordinary triumph was about. It was concerned with the depth of a 30-year-old's ambition to accumulate fresh glory - and his ability to pick out a route that removed all semblance of doubt as to the outcome.
He settled on his strategy after briefly surveying the possibilities of a course which last offered a place in the pantheon of golf champions in 1967, when the amiable Roberto de Vincenzo won, largely to his own amazement.
The Argentinian, who would later eliminate himself from a Masters' play-off because of a mistake in the scorer's hut, declared: "Can you believe it? I came here to see some old friends and won the damn thing."
Woods has friends, of course; their names might not perhaps fill a telephone directory in the Shetlands, but we can be sure he has them. Not on a golf course, however. For two days we saw that his anger at the criticism levelled by Nick Faldo at a shot that was all of 18 months old was slow to cool - and yesterday there was fresh evidence that if you earn the enmity of the Tiger, it is something you do not shed quickly, if at all.
It is one of the game's less guarded secrets that Woods considered Garcia a little too self-absorbed even for an infant prodigy when he sought to make his own run at precocious success. Yesterday, while the Spaniard writhed on the possibility that for all his talent he may never get his hands on a major title, Woods was utterly impervious to his playing partner's distress as he haemorrhaged shots in the early going and found himself seven shots adrift at the finish.
At the finish, the Tiger's margin over DiMarco was a mere two strokes, but that was a statistical deceit.
The whole point of the Woods' game plan was not that he was going to decimate the Royal Liverpool course, post scores that would go flaming into the history books. No, it was about winning, about developing a set of tactics that would make the idea of his losing quite ridiculous. And there it was, the evidence of a master plan conceived by the master himself - 67, 65, 71 and 67. It failed by just one stroke to beat his own record of 19-under when he won his first claret jug in 2000, but that was utterly inconsequential - something he made plain with a great outpouring of emotion on the 18th green.
For four days he had controlled his emotions quite clinically, but when the winning stroke had been made, there was no doubt where his thoughts were locked.
They were consumed by the memory of his father, Earl, who fashioned his young Tiger when he was a toddler back in Southern California.
Woods Snr, until his recent fatal illness, was always the great figure waiting to embrace his boy when he came in from the course to the sounds of fresh triumph. Their bear-hugs spoke of a relationship that had been forged in a climate of absolute ambition, but one which had never been warped by the weight of overwhelming expectation.
"I have missed my father so much," said Woods, explaining the force of his feelings when he hugged his caddie, Steve Williams, at the end of the action. "While I was playing I had so much to think about, but when it was over of course he was my first thought... I realised how much he loved to see me grind out victories... and that was the type of game I decided to play here."
Woods saw a way to win and pursued it with total conviction. There were so many times over the last few days when the golf cognoscenti yearned for Woods to call for the big driver and go for the power that persuaded so many golf committees to treat Tiger-proofing as an urgent priority after his first assault on Augusta National. But they might have been calling up the Second Coming. Woods was resolute. He would not attempt to fly the bunkers. He would not invite disaster upon himself and in the emotions of victory it was perhaps easy to understand why he had been so emphatic that he would stay with the plan that he believed guaranteed victory.
It was quite clear that if Woods had suffered misadventure, if he had allowed, say, the fierce will of DiMarco, who was playing with an emotional force of his own after the death of his beloved mother, to prevail, it would be a kind of betrayal. Not just of his father, but the set of competitive values he has come to live by. The truth was that the father and the values had become quite indivisible.
This, surely, must have been one of the conclusions of a field which started the day with some hope but soon enough accepted they were pitted against too powerful a force. It was the sheer weight of Woods' self-control - and belief - that ultimately left them struggling in a void of futility.
The Tiger, it was clear long before the end of the drama which was progressively reduced by the sheer strength of his will, had something at his disposal that could not be stolen or balked. Garcia had played like a young lion on Saturday. Els, one of the great talents, had stayed in the tournament with superb resilience. DiMarco performed with the same pride in his blood which made him such a fierce challenger to Woods in the US Masters of last year.
But when it came right down to it yesterday none of that was enough. They produced the best they could muster of themselves, but it was never enough. Tiger Woods was simply operating on a level of his own. He no doubt had made a promise to both his father and himself.
Tiger the uncatchable front-runner
By James Corrigan
How Tiger Woods has won his previous 10 majors leading from the front:
* 1997 MASTERS (Augusta)
Led by nine after third round, won by 12.
In his first professional major, Woods overcame a poor opening nine of 40 in the first round to obliterate the field over the next 45 holes to take a nine-stroke advantage into the final 18. A 69 gave him a 12-stroke victory over Tom Kite - a Masters record and the biggest winning margin in a major of that century.
* 1999 USPGA (Medinah, Illinois)
Shared lead, won by one.
With playing partner, Mike Weir, bombing out on his way to a horrific 80, Woods was able to build a five-shot lead by the 11th. But the 19-year-old Sergio Garcia pushed him all the way in a thrilling back nine remembered for the Spaniard's shot around the tree on the 16th. Woods overcame a double-bogey on the 13th to make a crucial par save on the 17th to inch out Garcia.
* 2000 US OPEN (Pebble Beach)
Led by 10, won by 15.
It was barely a contest as Woods compiled rounds of 65-69-71 to construct an impregnable advantage over South Africa's Ernie Els. It became almost embarrassing as Woods kept bogey off his card for the final 26 holes and his 67 extended his dominance by another three shots. The margin of victory was a major record, his 12-under total the only one under par.
* 2000 OPEN (St Andrews)
Led by six, won by eight.
Another no-contest as David Duval headed out to the Old Course's first tee staring at a six-shot deficit. By the end it was eight, as Woods' 69 set a few more records at the course he calls "my favourite place on earth". Duval did get to within three after the 10th but a horrific eight from the Road Hole bunker gave second to Ernie Els and Dane Thomas Bjorn.
* 2000 USPGA CHAMPIONSHIP
Led by one, won in play-off.
A 67 would normally be enough to see off the rest when holding a one-shot lead but, in Bob May, Woods found a stubborn journeyman who would not give in. Indeed, Woods needed to hole a six-footer for birdie to get into a three-hole play-off and even then May almost holed a 40-footer to drag it into sudden death.
* 2001 MASTERS (Augusta)
Led by one, won by two.
Leading Phil Mickelson by one and a group including David Duval by two, Woods needed once again to pull out every stop to fend off his rivals and so become the only player ever to hold all four majors at the same time. Duval was level until he suffered bogeys on the 16th and 18th. Woods holed a 15-footer on the 18th for a two-stroke win.
* 2002 MASTERS (Augusta)
Shared lead with Retief Goosen, won by three.
With three birdies on the first nine holes, Woods shook off his South African playing partner and then, on the back nine, a number of would-be conquerors including American rival Phil Mickelson, South African Ernie Els and the Fijian Vijay Singh. All faltered as they realised that Woods would not buckle and his 71 earned a three-shot triumph.
* 2002 US OPEN (Bethpage, New York)
Led by four, won by three.
Sergio Garcia was the nearest challenger to woods after three rounds, but the Spaniard could make no inroads as he went backwards with a round of 74. But it was no cakewalk for Woods, who had two three-putt bogeys in his first two holes to give Mickelson hope. Not for long, though. Woods missed only two fairways in the final round and, despite shooting a one-over par 72, the world No 1 cruised home by three strokes.
* 2005 MASTERS (Augusta)
Led by three, won on first play-off hole.
Tied a Masters record with seven successive birdies on his way to a third-round 65, giving him a three-shot lead. Chris DiMarco pushed him closer than anyone, however, as Woods needed to hole a miraculous chip on the 16th hole to enforce a play-off which he won with a birdie on the first extra hole.
* 2005 OPEN (St Andrews)
Led by two, won by five.
Woods had to withstand the charge of Colin Montgomerie who was backed by a fiercely partisan crowd as the Scot pulled within one stroke by the 10th. But when Montgomerie bogeyed the 11th hole and Woods birdied the 12th, it was over as a contest. As so many playing partners have done, Montgomerie was left to battle for the consolation of second place.
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