Woods falls from Mount Olympus

An opening 74, his first over-par round in a major since 1999, offered a reminder of Tiger's mortal frailties
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The Independent Online

It appears, at the time of writing, as if a fifth successive major golf title, and with it the prospect of a first jen-yoo-ine Grand Slam, might just elude Tiger Woods. Then again it might not, because a third-round 69 at Southern Hills in Tulsa, Oklahoma, lifted him right back into contention for the US Open.

Whatever, it was not just because he was in Oklahoma that Woods woke up last Thursday thinking: "I've got a beautiful feelin'... everythin's going my way." And yet by the end of the round he had an ugly 74 on his scorecard, and those of us watching his progress on television had been treated, as Gene Pitney did not sing, to 24 glowers from Tulsa. Not for ages have I seen so many scowls cross that pretty face.

Southern Hills is the course where Tiger recorded his highest ever score as a pro, a 78 in 1996, albeit on the day that his beloved father, Earl, was admitted to hospital with chest pains. The cardiologist who examined Earl found a structural weakness, but he could have warned of an even greater danger to his heart, that too much pride might just burst it. Certainly there have been occasions when Earl's pride in his boy has been so ferocious that it has wrenched his mind from its hinges. When Tiger met Nelson Mandela, his father issued a statement to the effect that Mandela was the first person Tiger had ever encountered who breathed the same rarefied air, the only other human-being who knew what it was like to gaze down from Mount Olympus.

Still, with that preposterous remark at least Earl acknowledged that Tiger was human; the rest of us have been starting to wonder. So the erratic shots which yielded his opening 74 ­ his first over-par round in a major since the first day of the 1999 Masters, 630 holes earlier ­ offered a timely reminder of his mortal frailties. And unless he spent last night, UK time, overtaking the field in a manner more suited to Michael Schumacher, the US Open title will, barring weather delays and a play-off still pending, by now have passed to somebody else.

Moreover, that somebody else will, for a change, be a white man. With Vijay Singh having won last year's Masters, and Woods otherwise all-conquering, one has to go all the way back to Paul Lawrie at Carnoustie to find a white winner of a major golf championship.

There is something immensely satisfying about this statistic, a sharp prod in the eye for the racists who prop up golf club bars from Atlanta to Weybridge (one of whom, regrettably a man of my slight acquaintance, actually wrote a letter objecting to a cardboard cut-out of Woods in his club shop). But as I say, at the time of writing it looks as though the sequence will be broken ­ as was inevitable sooner or later, though it seems rather a shame that it should happen in the state where the white supremacist Timothy McVeigh perpetrated his dreadful massacre.

Not that there remains any illusion of white supremacy in professional golf, whatever happened yesterday in Tulsa. And, whoever won, professional golf still has only one man entitled to call himself a genius, not that he does, having managed to stay relatively humble amid the avalanche of his father's hubris. Of course, Earl is not just basking in Tiger's reflected glory, he is claiming some of it for himself. As with all those overbearing tennis dads, implicit in much of what he says is the reminder that he gave the genius his genes, which brings me to a BBC documentary I watched last week, called How To Make A Genius.

The programme found an American couple called the Ramms, and Mr Ramm, somewhat ironically for a Ramm, is infertile. So Mrs Ramm conceived by making a withdrawal from a sperm bank. However, it was not just any sperm bank. It was the Coutts of sperm banks, a shamelessly élitist institution which only accepted deposits from men with great accomplishments behind them.

To father their first child, who turned out to be a girl, the Ramms chose a phial of sperm from a top scientist. To father their second, another girl, they took a deposit from an Olympic gold medallist. I would love to report that one daughter can split the atom and the other can do the splits, but of course things did not turn out like that. Both girls seemed disappointingly normal, and thank heavens for that, because eugenics is a crime against humanity. Besides, if it were that easy to breed sporting prowess, then the world would be an even madder place than it is. And imagine the consternation in the Nike boardroom as they tried to work out how to fit their swoosh logo on Tiger's most valuable extremity.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

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