March 19, 2012
Which Tiger will show up at Bay Hill?
By Ian Hutchinson, Special to QMI Agency
As it turns out, his Achilles heel won’t be the downfall of the mighty Tiger Woods, so advertising revenue will be bountiful as will the optimism — bordering on hysteria — that goes with the loud sigh of relief as Woods heads to Bay Hill this week and then on to Augusta.
Spring is in the air and the chirping reached a din when Tiger tweeted last week that the Achilles tendon that forced him to exit Doral was only mildly strained. Now, we can get back to the serious business of crowning him Masters champ weeks before the first tee shot.
Two specific camps exist in golf, with few people occupying the neutral zone in between.
One contains the Tiger warriors who blindly believe their man will regain his past glory and automatically install him as the favourite in whatever tournament he plays.
The other is comprised of cynics who either tired of his past dominance or don’t forgive him for the past transgressions that shattered his life. Both sides are short-sighted and stubborn.
At times this season, Woods has displayed that he does still have the physical skills to be a Masters contender, but the word favourite can’t legitimately be used.
So far, his brief flashes of brilliance have been interrupted by injuries or the nagging question of what’s going on inside his melon, something we cannot truly assess.
Neither camp really knows the noise that’s going on between Tiger’s ears, so this theory that he pulled out of Doral because of frustration with his game is just lively pub talk, but an interesting theory nonetheless.
Which Tiger turns up at Bay Hill this week and, ultimately, at Augusta is that nagging question that requires pretence and imagined expertise on the part of those who claim to have such vision.
Will it be the guy who almost ruined Rory McIlroy’s ascension to No. 1 in the world by shooting a magnificent 62 in the final round at the Honda Classic, or will it be the guy who got smoked by Phil Mickelson in the final round at Pebble Beach? Will Tiger’s putter be red hot or stone cold?
It doesn’t matter because even if Woods is nowhere near the top of the leaderboard, eventual champions such as Mickelson and McIlroy are secondary stories, recognized not by what they accomplished personally, but how it affected Tiger.
What will you remember most about Doral this year? Tiger getting hurt or Justin Rose actually winning? A vulnerable Woods is now more marketable than when he was golf’s dominant force. Bay Hill is an extremely important tournament for Woods as we steam towards the Masters. Imagine the hysteria if he should win it.
But even, then would you pick him over McIlroy with his three top-three finishes, including a win, and an amazing record dating back to last season?
Do you discount Mickelson or somebody such as Hunter Mahan or other young guys who haven’t won this year but are due? Do Jim Furyk, Luke Donald or Lee Westwood fit into the equation?
The other wild card going into the Masters is how much of a distraction will Hank Haney’s insider book be for Woods once it hits the stands?
In golf’s new world order, Woods is a Masters contender, but hardly the favourite. That person, whoever that might be, may very well be lurking in the shadows, content to see Tiger in the spotlight.
I expect more from the medical community, but last Tuesday I received an e-mail from the TASC Group, which I assume is some public relations firm, quoting Dr. Steven Weinfeld who, according to the press release, is an associate professor of orthopaedic surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York, offering “expert” commentary on Woods’ injury and expected recovery period. “My initial thought was it had to be more than a mild strain of the Achilles tendon. He’s not my patient, but I would suspect that unfortunately, there could be a more serious injury that he is suffering from,” Dr. Weinfeld is quoted as saying. Not your patient? You suspect? Hit delete ... How’s this for a vintage year? Ben Hogan, Byron Nelson and Sam Snead were born 100 years ago in 1912.
WEIR HELD IT TOGETHER
A change of scenery on the European Tour last week was somewhat positive for Mike Weir in that he held it together without posting a massive number. Other than his opening-round 68, though, he didn’t post a particularly outstanding number in Spain, so no major step forward. Weir will play Bay Hill this week before heading to the Masters ... Gil Hanse, who was selected to design the Olympic golf course in Rio de Janeiro along with former LPGA Tour player Amy Alcott, worked with Canadian architect Ian Andrew on a revitalization of Toronto’s Scarboro Golf and Country Club, which is celebrating its 100th anniversary, in 2007 ... Lorne Rubenstein has a book coming out on the legendary Moe Norman, entitled Moe and Me ... The PGA Tour extended its deal with FedEx recently. That must have you stoked about the FedEx Cup points and playoffs as tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggests. Okay, okay, just wondering.