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The End of the Beginning

Tiger's on the up but let's have some perspective writes Dermot Gilleece

Posted Dec 06, 2011 by Dermot Gilleece

tiger new 2

All right:  Tiger is back winning again and tournament golf rejoices, not least for the excitement he brings to the game.  But after everything that has been written about Woods since his altercation with a fire-hydrant a little over two years ago, I believe it is important that we maintain a proper sense of perspective.

While victory in the Chevron World Challenge on Sunday was obviously crucial to Woods’ confidence, what does it actually mean in the context of his competitive well-being looking towards next season?  I would suggest that the answer to that question can be found in the words of Winston Churchill from one of his more memorable World War II speeches, in November 1942.  

I’m thinking of his utterances in the aftermath of what became known as the Battle of Egypt, when the combined leadership of Alexander and Montgomery turned back the German forces under Rommel at El Alamein.  By way of firing British morale but with a healthy modicum of realism, Churchill famously said: “Now, this is not the end.  It is not even the beginning of the end.  But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Putting this in Tiger-speak, my view is that what we saw at Sherwood Country Club wasn’t necessarily the end of two years of torment for the erstwhile world number one.  Nor could it be interpreted as even a clear signal that such an end was in sight.  But it most definitely marked a very significant milestone in terms of boosting his fragile confidence.   

To hail it in more effusive terms would be to overlook the nature of Sunday’s challenge down the stretch.  Instead of facing a seriously hot opponent in Graeme McDowell, the reigning US Open champion who was fresh from a stunning Ryder Cup followed by victory in the Andalucia Masters, as he did last year, Woods had to contend with a far less formidable rival in Zach Johnson.

Even after his second-place finish in the Chevron, Johnson is still ranked 33rd in the world, indicating a recent level of form far removed from that which delivered a US Masters title in April 2007.  When he needed the sort of putting confidence which characterised his Augusta triumph, the blade was found wanting, especially on the 2nd green where his attempted, right-to-left birdie effort, slipped tamely below the hole.

By contrast, there much of the Woods of old in the 15-footer he holed on the short 17th and his six-footer on the last, both for birdies.  Still, even he has to acknowledge the Chevron as a tame, end-of-season outing involving a limited, 18-man field which didn’t include the world’s current leading players.  Make no mistake but that Woods would have been acutely aware of this as he relished those long overdue, climactic moments in the sun.

The truth is that the severe mental torment he brought on himself was far more damaging than any of us could have imagined.  As Padraig Harrington said: “I really underestimated how much it would affect him.  I genuinely thought he was a much tougher individual.  I thought he would brush it off and come back out (but) it’s hit him emotionally a lot harder than I would have expected.”  

Meanwhile, last Sunday’s winning cheque for $1.2 million, which went into the coffers of the Woods Foundation, has lifted the player’s tournament earnings for the season to a surprising, $1.99 million, which goes to emphasise how much is actually on offer in the modern game.  Accepting the nature of Sunday’s event, Woods can look back, in fact, on only two worthwhile tournament performances in 2011.  

They were a fourth-place finish for $330,667 in the US Masters last April and $104,088 for third in the Australian Open in Sydney on November 13th.  The rest of it was pretty scrappy stuff, which notably included a missed cut in the PGA Championship at Atlanta Athletic Club where he departed the scene after rounds of 77 and 73 - 10 over par.

So, there’s clearly a long way to go.  But even the great Churchill would acknowledge that the fascinating El Tigre has completed the first step on the road to recovery.

- Dermot Gilleece

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