Posted by: Mike Cornelius | June 4, 2017

A Week Of Woods, Then Golf Gets Back To Business

The traveling road show that is the PGA Tour pulled into Muirfield Village Golf Club in the suburbs of Columbus, Ohio this week for the Memorial Tournament. While not a major nor one of the four World Golf Championship events, the Memorial is decidedly more important than the weekly insurance company open. That’s because the tournament host is Jack Nicklaus, who began the event 41 years ago to support charities in the area where he grew up. The tournament’s association with the greatest golfer of his time elevated its status from the start, as did its status as just one of five stops on the Tour’s regular schedule that is an invitational, playing with a limited field of 120 starters. Nicklaus also makes a point of honoring a retired player in the runup to each year’s event.

But for much of the week the main topic of discussion wasn’t Nicklaus’s legacy, 2017 honoree Greg Norman, the condition of the layout or who in the field had the best chance of conquering the difficult golf course. Instead at Muirfield Village and beyond, the entire sports world was talking about a golfer who hasn’t played in a PGA event since February and hasn’t cashed a winner’s check since 2013.

In the wee hours of Monday morning Tiger Woods was arrested on suspicion of DUI near his home in Jupiter, Florida. Soon enough copies of the police report, then video of Woods failing field sobriety tests, and eventually more video of Woods at the Palm Beach County jail, taking a breathalyzer test and being read his Miranda rights, all made the rounds of social media. The assorted graphics were accompanied by no shortage of opinion, most of it ranging between overheated and hysterical.

It mattered little that the police eventually corroborated Woods’s assertion that his impairment was related to a mixture of prescription medications and not alcohol. The breathalyzer results showed a reading of 0.00. Woods obviously should have known better than to drive while taking his prescriptions – it’s not as if he couldn’t afford a Uber to get home. But wild headlines like “Tiger Woods now just a ruined man,” “Tiger Woods: A lost, sorry soul,” and other similar absurdities abounded. As Will Leitch pointed out in a thoughtful piece in Friday’s New York Times, all the opinions were from those on the sidelines who can only pretend to know Woods.

It is hard to tell which activity many fans and member of the sports media enjoy more these days; the work of raising up an athlete to heroic status, elevating him or her to a lofty pedestal, or tearing that pedestal to pieces when he or she turns out to be, who would have thought it possible, merely human. Leitch got it right, that we don’t know Woods and never have. Leitch was also correct that the main factor contributing to the sharp decline in Woods’s play is not some character flaw revealed when the Palm Beach County police pulled up behind the idling Mercedes in which Woods had passed out, but the fact that he’s now 41, with a back that has been unimaginably stressed through countless rounds of golf that began literally when he was 2 years old. Time is the implacable foe of every one of our sporting heroes, and the denouement of the unending struggle between age and ability is seldom pretty.

Two-time major winner Martin Kaymer also weighed in with a video post on Twitter, asking why so many people felt it necessary to be so nasty about Woods. Kaymer pointed out how much Woods has contributed to broadening the appeal of golf and obliquely referred to what he has done for every current touring pro by raising the visibility and the finances of the sport. He concluded with a heartfelt plea for people to “be kind;” though kindness is an increasingly rare concept in this TMZ age.

Thankfully Thursday finally arrived, and once the first groups were on the course at least some of the sporting world’s attention turned to the outcome of the tournament. For two days Jason Dufner, winner of the 2013 PGA Championship, appeared determined to run away with the event. He opened with a 7-under par 65 that featured six birdies, an eagle on the par-5 7th hole, and just a single dropped shot that came when he bogeyed the last. Then Dufner matched that score in the second round when he went bogey-free and atoned for his earlier mistake on the 18th by holing out from 175 yards for an eagle two.

The twin 65s put Dufner at 14-under par and set a new scoring record for the midpoint of the Memorial. But Saturday was a different story, as the 40-year old bogeyed four of the first five holes on the way to an unsightly 77 that wiped out his five-shot lead and left him in a tie for third heading into Sunday, four shots behind Daniel Summerhays.

Sunday’s final round was interrupted by a pair of rain delays. When the skies opened for the first time there were eight players within two shots of the lead, including Dufner, who had just birdied the par-3 12th. But in the brief period between play resuming and the second interruption by electrical storms, everyone else on the first page of the leader board played like the last thing they wanted to do was win the tournament. Dufner meanwhile reached the par-5 15th in two and two-putted for birdie, then added another red number on the par-4 17th after a wedge from 119 yards stopped less than three feet from the hole.

Just six players went back out after the second delay, with Dufner having already teed off at the last, two shots clear of playing partner Rickie Fowler, the only golfer with a realistic chance to catch him. When Dufner rolled in a putt from nearly forty feet to save a final par he joined the distinguished list of winners at the Memorial. Nicklaus was there to congratulate him as he left the 18th green, and the golf world was finally free to talk about something other than amateur analyses of the psyche of Tiger Woods.

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Responses

  1. This is a good post about a touchy subject, Mike. Well done.
    Ω

    • Thanks very much Allan. Back when they were the main rivals I was always more of a Phil guy than a Tiger guy (which generally meant I got used to my guy finishing second), but I do intensely dislike the modern fascination with tearing down our icons.

      M-


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