Ivan Morris column - The Masters may be Tiger’s defining moment

Limerick Leader golf columnist Ivan Morris
LOVE him or loathe him, it’s not easy for a keen observer not to become embroiled in a debate about what the future holds for Tiger Woods.

LOVE him or loathe him, it’s not easy for a keen observer not to become embroiled in a debate about what the future holds for Tiger Woods.

At the time of writing, Tiger is languishing off the pace in the USA’s Ryder Cup points table. Unless there is a rapid improvement, he faces the indignity of having to rely on a Captain’s ‘pick.’

It’s natural that any world’s No.1 golfer for 14-years could be on the wane. Apart from ‘old age’ creeping up, what else ails Tiger? Has too much tinkering with his swing and changing coaches once too often done irreparable damage?

The 2014 Master’s Tournament at Augusta next month may be THE DEFINING MOMENT. If Tiger does not win this year’s Master’s - you can take it as ‘read’ that he won’t reach his childhood goal of beating Jack Nicklaus’s major-winning record. Jack has 18.

Tiger has been ‘stuck’ on 14 since 2008. Tiger is 39 and nobody in has won five majors beginning at that age.

The fallout from his marital problems have had a most damaging effect but Tiger’s demise is more about a steady erosion of driving distance.

In 1997 and 1998, Tiger was second only to John Daly at 294.8 yards. By 2001, he had slipped to third; 2002-6th; 2003-11th; 2007-12th; 2012-32nd; 2013-49th and during all of that time, he never figured out how to compensate by becoming more accurate. More than anything, Tiger’s fall off can be attributed to a big (relative) decline in the distance he hits his drives.

After winning the US Open in 2008, Tiger spent three, critical years on the injured list.

Tiger may have won regularly on 2012 and 2013 but he was clearly not the dominating figure of previous years. Being a contender is one thing; being dominant another.

The pack of young wolves coming from behind has surpassed him in the vital, macho stat of distance!

Every dominant golfer in the history of the game has hit the ball farther than the opposition. In any group of golfers with similar ability the edge always goes to the longest drive.

That is why (much as I despise it!) it is worth your while to ‘stay up with technology’’ and spend some time with your chosen golf professional and his Tracman to make absolutely sure that you are in possession of the correct driver and the correct ball - for you. Achieving the maximum yardage off the tee is priceless.

Tiger’s battle-scarred, battle-weary, 39-years old body has suffered too many serious injuries. He has not won a single major for 6-years.

When Tiger’s private life imploded so, it seems, did his ability to win majors. He gives the impression of fighting demons. Nicklaus never had to do that.

It’s as simple (or as complicated) as this - if Tiger does not return to the top ten in driving distance immediately he will never win majors again; certainly not five of them. Even last year when Tiger was imperious at times, his displays in the majors were questionable.

Erratic mood swings, swearing, throwing clubs and showing an astonishing lack of respect for course etiquette, and some would say the rules, puts Tiger close to a complete melt down.

One of the strangest things that I have found out as I have grown older is that ‘pure skill’ doesn’t win golf tournaments. You win at golf with your heart and mind. Call it determination and controlling nerves, if you like.

One always has to take account of the fact that golf’s final frontier is in the mind. Who knows what anyone’s mind can achieve when it is working properly?

Tiger still has the most all-round skill but his driving and putting aren’t what they once were. That is fatal unless his mind knows how to compensate.

I could imagine Tiger winning two, more majors but not any more than that. Age is against him.

He will need some luck and maybe a final day collapse, or two, by others? Anyone who thinks that Tiger will win 5+ more majors is dreaming.

Even though Tiger is from a generation that is committed to fitness as a big part of the game, I’m not sure that he can carry on (as before) into his mid-40s - producing the performances of yore.

2014 is crucial. 7-years without a major win would be an insurmountable trend to reverse, especially when you want five - not one! Another year without a major and his self belief will be shattered.

Time is running out. If Tiger is to win another major, he must win this year’s Masters. He was cruelly unlucky last year. Hitting a flagstick and rebounding into the water and the rules hoo-ha that followed could only be classed as a ‘severe, bad break.’

Maybe, the guy has used up all of his good luck? The gods may no longer be on his side?

And yet, they could have decided to give him a break in 2014 by removing Ike’s tree at the 17th hole. That tree caused Tiger a few problems over the years. Never underestimate (or anticipate) the gods of golf!

Words of the Wise

65 of the 423 majors ever played have been won by golfers of 38-years-old or older. That’s a puny 15.4%.