The Big One finds humour in pursuit of 'fifth' major

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Not too long ago, in the land of the lush green fairway and the bright blue lake, there was a character known as The Big One. Wherever he pitched up, the pack would follow. Feeding on the scraps left in his shadow.

Not too long ago, in the land of the lush green fairway and the bright blue lake, there was a character known as The Big One. Wherever he pitched up, the pack would follow. Feeding on the scraps left in his shadow.

Then something rather odd happened in what had been a beautifully uncomplex world. The Big One became The Big Two, The Big Two The Big Three, and now, as the golfing year at last starts in earnest here at The Players Championship, we have The Big Four. If there is a Big Fifth out there about to raise their peaked-cap could they please get on with it because this is getting ridiculous.

Except the original - and still undoubtedly "The Best'' - cuts a rather more relaxed figure than he once did. Call it the comfort of suddenly finding himself in a crowd, of having the responsibility of greatness shared first by Ernie Els, then by Vijay Singh and Phil Mickelson, but Tiger Woods has developed a facet to his make-up that for once could not be found in a Butch Harmon textbook.

It is called a sense of humour and evidence of its emergence was provided in Orlando on Sunday when asked if there was any positives he could take from yet another week when a bunch of mere mortals had had the effrontery to finish ahead of him. The old, big bad Woods, would have huffed and puffed and been on the verge of blowing the house down but the new one merely sighed and threw his head back in mock suffering. "Well nobody died,'' he replied with a facial contortion that came close to a smile. "I didn't kill anyone. I hit a few, mind you. But fortunately they all bounced straight back up.''

Fast forward two days to Sawgrass yesterday, to the so-called "Fifth Major'' where accuracy off the tee is a requirement for green-finding and Woods was still laughing his way out of the impending rough. When asked, "Who is the best player in the world right now?'' he replied, quick as a flash, "I like my chances.''

Singh reclaimed the top spot in the world rankings at Bay Hill after relinquishing it to Woods' triumph at Doral three weeks ago and the tussle looks set to continue with both he and Els capable of leapfrogging the Fijian with victory here. So what, insinuated the 29-year-old. "The rankings are something you guys get worked up about,'' he said. "We just like winning golf tournaments.''

Nevertheless, he appreciates that in his current wayward form that will be anything but easy when play gets underway tomorrow. The first thing Woods did on arriving in north Florida on Monday was to check out the rough. He was pleased to find it "not as high as last year'', but bemoaned the fact there is any at all. "When we first came here there was no deep stuff, and that's how Sawgrass is meant to be played. But they have changed it since then and gone more to a US Open set-up.''

But negativity no longer stalks Woods like it did, say a year ago, and he's found reason to grin again as he casts his mind ahead to this year's majors. "I always look forward to playing at St Andrews,'' he said about the Old Course where he won his first and thus far only Open in 2000. "I fell in love with the place the first time I played it in 1995. Without a doubt, it's my favourite course in all the world.'' As he said it you could almost hear The Open organisers on the phone to the printers telling them to hold off on the programmes. There may very well be four of them now, but praise from The Big One is still the highest praise of all.

* The European Tour goes to Jakarta this week for the Indonesian Open where Colin Montgomerie and Thailand's Thongchai Jaidee have the added incentive of qualifying for next month's US Masters. Montgomerie has to win to avoid missing the Masters for the first time since 1991.

Comments