Different Strokes: Weather to blame for Tiger's decline, Billy Casper tribute

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Fore! Tiger Woods blamed a delay in starting, caused by poor weather, for the back problem that made him withdraw.

Alongside his many career achievements, perhaps one of Tiger Woods’ less heralded contributions to the world of golf is an array of new terminology for writers, fans and indeed his fellow professionals to learn and adopt.

– Joy of Golf: Tiger Woods wilts, Rory McIlroy stays focused
– Tiger Woods decline becoming as compelling as rise to greatness

We’ve had “traj” (“trajectory”), “get that W” (“win the tournament”), “need more reps” (“need to practise more”) and the absolute classic of the Tiger lexicon, “it is what it is” (“it is what it is”).

Now we have another phrase to add to that particularly dictionary: “glutes activating.”

Apparently as his glutes go, so does Tiger’s golf game. When they don’t activate, as they apparently didn’t on Thursday at Torrey Pines, then he’s in trouble—such trouble that he is no longer able to continue playing.

Woods withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open after just 12 holes, citing a back problem that would not go away. He blamed a delay in starting, caused by poor weather, for the issue.

“It’s frustrating that it started shutting down like that,” Woods said during an impromptu car park press conference, something he has started to specialize in in recent seasons. “I was ready to go. I had a good warm-up session the first time around. Then we stood out here and I got cold, and everything started deactivating again. And it’s frustrating that I just can’t stay activated. That’s just kind of the way it is.”

Things have only got worse for Woods since then. When the 39-year-old woke up on Monday morning he was ranked the No. 62 golfer in the world, the worst ranking he has held since he turned professional in 1996 (when he did that, his amateur results alone had him 75th). We are just weeks away from the American ‘beating’ their record, tumbling to his lowest ever ranking as a professional.

The slide could get much embarrassing yet. This early part of the season has often been good to Tiger—he has won the Farmers Insurance Open seven times alone—but, with the world rankings working on a two-year cycle, with every withdrawal or missed cut some valuable contributing points fall off his board, with nothing to replace them.

Woods now has four PGA Tour wins counting towards his PGA Tour ranking (the fact he is 62nd despite that record shows how terribly he has tended to do when he hasn’t won; very much boom or bust), but two of those (the 2013 Cadillac Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational) will fall off the board by the end of March, meaning if he does not win both those tournaments this year his ranking will crash precipitously

If Woods continues to fail to finish tournaments, in fact, by the time The Masters rolls around he will be outside the top 100. By the end of the year he could be outside the top 1000—considering his sparse 2014 record, he will have almost no positive results to call upon—and relying on sponsors invites and his past achievements to get into PGA Tour events, and his status as a past champion to keep getting into the majors.

Is that something he really wants to be doing?

It is lions that travel in a pride, but Tiger has never been short of it either. Will he really be happy to continue playing when he can’t seem to stand over a chip without knowing whether he was going to skull it over the green or catch it cleanly? When he can’t stand on the tee on a Thursday, at a course he knows and loves, and know with any certainty that he will be able to finish the round, let alone the tournament?

It was embarrassing, emasculating almost, to see Woods on the range in practice at Torrey Pines, as professionals with a fraction of the CV he has amassed lining up to offer their advice in his hour of need. They would stand there, suggesting this fix or that fix, and then Woods would suddenly send a hosel-rocket skidding across the range at a 45-degree angle, leaving his audience staring at their feet, unsure how to react.

It was similar to a scene from the film Tin Cup, except that was played for laughs (and Kevin Costner’s Roy McAvoy had just qualified for the US Open using only a 7-iron and had previously won a skins game using a bag of garden tools, so we could forgive him anything).

Woods’ embarrassment, however, continued into the round itself, the back getting worse after he skulled his first chip of the day (those problems just won’t go away). His playing partner Billy Horschel took to picking up Woods’ tee after each tee-shot, a kind gesture that unwittingly came across like the kindly junior member at the local golf club taking his doddering grandfather out for some fresh air.

When Woods walked off it was almost a relief, even if these injury problems are becoming so regular that they increase the likelihood he will never return to his former level. Stoppages in play are part and parcel of life on the PGA Tour; if Woods’ back cannot cope with that, he is going to struggle to finish a lot of tournaments going forward.

As a result, some seasoned observers started to raise the spectre of retirement. It is hard to see Woods settling for a life as a run-of-the-mill PGA Tour player or, even worse, a charity case, trotted out and accommodated by tournaments out of deference for his previous achievements. Could pride see him walk away rather than accept that fate?

On the other hand, there is still that record. There’s always that record. Woods has 14 majors, and deep down you sense he’s still the kid that posted Jack Nicklaus’s list of achievements on his wall, and resolved to beat his tally of 18 majors one day.

He still wants to do that—to some extent he has staked his whole legacy on doing that, especially after the revelations around his personal life—yet now he seems to be quickly getting caught between his pride and his desire, and the fact he might lose one in the desperate pursuit of the other.

Woods’ chipping will return, there should be little doubt about that, but with every passing month his swing remains wobbly, and his fitness remains unreliable, the prospect of him returning to his former level on the consistent basis needed to enjoy a strong PGA Tour season gets more and more distant. His glutes would perhaps have to disappear completely for him to stop competing in the majors, but he may soon decide everything else is not worth the hassle.

Woods might say “it is what it is,” but what it feels like is that we are fast approaching an decisive moment in Woods’ career as a tour professional.

Casper the friendly great

The world of golf lost a legend this week, as 1970 Masters champion Billy Casper passed away. He was 83.

Just beneath the game’s true greats—Nicklaus, Snead, Palmer, Woods—Casper’s record ranks there with the best of them; he won 51 times on the PGA Tour and claimed three majors (the 1959 and 1966 US Opens preceding his green jacket), during a period when the aforementioned Nicklaus, Palmer and Player were all wrestling for supremacy.

Between 1962 and 1970 he won 33 times, the same number as Nicklaus and three more than Palmer. Palmer had perhaps peaked by the start of that period but Nicklaus was only just entering his prime, which only underlines how competitive Casper was against the very best the game has to offer.

His swing was somewhat unconventional, but it evidently got results He was renowned for being a phenomenal putter, and one of the nicest men you could meet.

“During my career, when I looked up at a leaderboard, I wasn’t just looking to see where a Palmer or a Player or a Trevino was. I was also checking to see where Billy Casper was,” Nicklaus said in a statement.

“I think it is fair to say that Billy was probably under-rated by those who didn’t play against him. Those who did compete against him, knew how special he was.”

In later years Casper’s biggest contribution was perhaps getting the Masters committee to revise its rules surrounding past champions, after he shot 87-80 in the first round of the 2000 competition to miss the cut. Previously all Masters champions were exempt for life, but the somewhat po-faced tournament committee suddenly decided that was a mistake, writing to Casper and two other past champions ahead of the 2001 tournament, inviting them to consider not returning.

Casper initially agreed, then reversed that in 2005 with a few others for a swansong. Then 73, he shot 106 in his first round and withdrew (or ‘did a Tiger’, as it is now known). When you think about it, though, that was a pretty amazing thing to do. He loved the game so much, and was so proud of his achievements, that he continued to turn up even after someone, rightly or wrongly, told him he shouldn’t. We could all learn from Billy Casper.

Billy Casper, golf will miss you.


From way downtown

 Safe to say Tiger would struggle with this shot right now. The Bryan Bros are a pair of (sibling) trick shot artists—although we have our suspicions that this one took about 70 takes to nail.

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