If normal service had not been disrupted, yesterday would have seen the last round of the Open Championship at Royal St George’s, the final one of the season’s four majors. In our corona-shaped world, however, the players will be teeing up in the first major of the year two weeks on Thursday, in the USPGA Championship at Harding Park in San Francisco.
Instead of the best golfers in the world endeavouring to get stuck into Sandwich last week, they were at Muirfield Village Golf Club in Ohio for the Memorial Tournament, the event conceived by the great Jack Nicklaus. The winner was Jon Rahm. Down the field in a tie for 40th was Tiger Woods, the man who with 15 majors still believes he can hunt down Nicklaus’s record haul of 18. But Tiger will be heading into the WGC/FedEx St Jude Invitational (if he enters), and from there to the PGA, having played only 12 tournament rounds all year.
The dozen are: 69-71-69-70 at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he tied for ninth in January; 69-73-76-77 at the Genesis Invitational, where he finished 68th, outright dead last of those who made the cut, in February; and 71-76-71-76 at the Memorial, where he needed two birdies in the last three holes on Friday to make it into the weekend. The pre-tournament talk that this might be the week he would claim his 83rd PGA Tour title, elevating him from the tie he presently shares with Sam Snead, looked preposterously optimistic. He’s probably played something like as many competitive rounds in 2020 as most club golfers have heading into Captain’s Day. Has he any hope of collecting major No. 16 in California in early August?
Obviously, since he is Tiger Woods the prospect cannot be wholly discounted, although it would not be unfair to describe his game at present as being rusty: more like permeated iron oxide than peerless iron play. It will also be interesting to see what his schedule (which he is always secretive about sharing) looks like after the PGA. Would he want to play three FedEx Series tournaments in 18 days from August 20 – that is assuming he qualifies for the Tour Championship – given that the US Open starts on September 17? Remember, he has had four operations on his back and he has repeatedly spoken of the need to look after his body. On the other hand, he won the Zozo Championship last October coming off a two-month break post-knee surgery.
I read a piece recently about Roger Federer, who has won 20 Grand Slams and no doubt was downhearted about Wimbledon not being played this year in a similar, if also very different, way to our own disappointment regarding the Open not happening. He first met Woods in 2006, when they were both unquestionably without peer in their respective sports. “I’ve never spoken with anybody who was so familiar with the feeling of being invincible,” Federer recalled. Neither of them feel that way anymore – time has that effect even on the greatest – but Woods will be heading to the PGA with hope in his heart and fire in his belly. For sure there will be life in the old Tiger yet.
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