Ken Jones: Wounded Woods should be judged by his own standards

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The Independent Online

Have you ever regretted not seeing Don Bradman bat? Fred Trueman bowl a bumper? Do you feel cheated because you never got to see Joe Louis punch, Stanley Matthews dribble, Jesse Owens sprint, J P R Williams tackle? Would you like to have seen Ben Hogan on the tee, Juan Fangio drive, Gordon Richards ride, Sea Bird II race? Maybe you wish you could have see Joe DiMaggio hit, Pele in his pomp, Fred Perry volley.

"Legend - famous person or act, especially in a particular area of activity" - Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English.

Have you ever regretted not seeing Don Bradman bat? Fred Trueman bowl a bumper? Do you feel cheated because you never got to see Joe Louis punch, Stanley Matthews dribble, Jesse Owens sprint, J P R Williams tackle? Would you like to have seen Ben Hogan on the tee, Juan Fangio drive, Gordon Richards ride, Sea Bird II race? Maybe you wish you could have see Joe DiMaggio hit, Pele in his pomp, Fred Perry volley.

All those are yesterday's roses. Faded dance cards in the attic. Heirlooms of the mind. Old timers watch the moderns, shake their heads and say: "Yes, but you should have seen Muhammad Ali in his glorious prime." Or Denis Compton.

Tiger Woods, 28, doesn't belong to that past. Woods is of today and, by his own confident insistence, tomorrow. Trouble is that his present and his future have become blurred. This was clearly evident last Monday when Woods drew level with Vijay Singh with four holes left to play at the Deutsche Bank Championship in Boston. The scene appeared to be set for Woods to cling on to the World No 1 ranking he had held for a record 264 weeks but the 41-year-old Fijian whose early years in the game were spent as a teaching professional in Borneo, calmly kept Woods at bay. The next title Singh will take from Woods will be the US Tour's Player of the Year.

Let's go back to this year's Open Championship at Troon. The days when Woods's very presence sent shivers of apprehension through the rest of the field, when his shot-making often boarded on the miraculous, had been replaced by a tussle to regain the form that saw him widely acclaimed as the greatest player the game had ever seen.

If there is substance in Woods's assertion that the difference between then and now is marginal, that he isn't far short of the towering standards of 2000, when, at 24, he equalled Hogan's record of winning three major championships in the same year, the flaws in his swing are apparent in a defensive attitude.

Nobody can take from Woods the impact of a reign that saw him play some of the most brilliant golf ever seen, prompting many to suggest that he would eventually surpass Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major championships. In 2000 he won the US Open by 15 shots, following this up by claiming The Open by eight. At one point his lead over the next best player was 17 points. "It may take years before anyone catches him," a pundit said.

Those of us who have come to regard Woods as one of the supreme sports figures of the 21st century can take comfort in his pride. Although Woods has not won a major in his last 10 attempts he has maintained a level of consistency that hardly supports the idea of a slump. In 38 tournaments during this period he has won seven and finished in the top three 12 times. Perhaps the best example of Woods's immense spirit came in this year's USPGA Championship when with six holes left to play in the second round he picked up three shots to make the cut.

It was amazing that Woods hung on to the No 1 spot for so long when it was clear he had fallen back into a group with Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson. In his last 10 tournaments, when it was an event if Woods found a fairway, he had eight top-10 finishes.

Woods has not lost the capacity to excite. One of the shots that drew him closer to Singh last Sunday was an exquisite chip from greenside rough to make a miraculous birdie. Commentating for television, the golfer Tony Johnstone remarked that he could have watched that shot a hundred times. "I just love watching this guy play," Johnstone added. "He's so remarkable, never gives up."

However, Woods is judged by the peaks of his achievement, not by consistently finishing in the top 10, nor by a stroke average and a record of cuts. His standards are those by which others have measured themselves, the inspiration for improvement.

An American friend who has studied Woods rejects the idea that he will be affected by the loss of his No 1 ranking. "I really don't think it will bother him," he said. "Tiger has never been entirely comfortable with fame. He doesn't like people intruding on his life. I think that explains why he gets so irritated with suggestions that he should seek help with his swing."

The US Ryder Cup captain, Hal Sutton, has detected a different reaction to Woods in the locker room. "When Tiger was winning everything there was, I think, a lot of jealousy. Now there is a great deal of respect for the way he has gone about coping with his problems."

The respect Woods seeks is for what he can achieve on the golf course. The creed to which he conforms has been there since the beginning of sport. To win, you've got to be there and compete. There isn't any other way.

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