His God-given talent cannot be matched

Tiger Woods hits out of the bunker in the semifinals of the Accenture Match Play Championship.-AP

There have been great players through the ages but Tiger Woods is the first player in history to give perfection a run for its money, writes Lawrence Donegan.

As the news filtered through that no less a judge of golfing flesh than Fred Funk, who has won eight times on the PGA tour, has had a friendly bet that Tiger Woods will win every tournament he plays in this season, the great man himself pondered the possibility of ever losing again. And after about as much time as it takes to swat a six-iron to three feet he issued the cursory response, “I’m sure it will happen, eventually.”

In winning his past seven events (and, lest it be overlooked, nine out of his past 10), Woods has looked unbeatable, so much so that one leading bookmaker was prepared to offer only the ridiculous price of 25-1 against the World No. 1 winning every event he plays in this year. “That is an artificially low price,” said a Ladbrokes spokesman, “but we have set it so low because we are scared.”

A scared bookie is a rare sight indeed, but not as rare as a list of tournament results with the same name lodged in the winner’s slot. “Unfathomable,” said Bart Bryant, who was confined to second place at Bay Hill that Sunday when Woods rolled in a snaking 24ft putt for a birdie on the final hole.

It is hard to imagine anyone improving on Bryant’s assessment of Woods’ achievements, although there were plenty of people around Doral who were willing to have a try. “It is like he has a great career every season,” said the always intelligent Geoff Ogilvy. “The way he is playing is a kind of fantasy,” chimed Davis Love.

When the orchestra of top-class golf is performing symphonies to your brilliance, there is no need to toot your own trumpet. In any case Woods is not the bragging kind, although there have been clues over the past few months that not only is he aware of the immensity of his achievement but that he also expected it.

In retrospect, it is hard to believe — as Woods would have us believe — that his assessment a few months back that the single-season Grand Slam is “easily within reason” was nothing more than a casual aside. If the golfing world has learned anything in the 10 years and seven months since he turned professional it is that he measures his words as carefully as a Savile Row tailor measures a customer — and the Slam is now available at the less-than-bargain price of 8-1.

There have been other clues, not least in Woods’ willingness to let those closest to him talk up his prospects, the latest being his caddie Steve Williams, who suggested that his boss was a far better player these days than he was back in 2000-2001, when he won four successive majors, albeit over two calendar years.

“In 2000-01 Tiger was putting unbelievable; his putting was amazing,” Williams said. “He didn’t hit the ball anywhere near like he hits it now, didn’t have anywhere near the array of shots and anywhere near the course management and course control. I don’t even compare the two, to be honest with you.

“There’s never been a player who’s been in contention week in and week out in any period of golf like Tiger has. He trains properly, he prepares himself properly and he doesn’t enter in a tournament or play in a tournament unless he knows he can win it. It surprises me a lot of guys don’t learn from the way his routine is.”

It is Woods’ good fortune that none of his rivals has done that. Yet even if they did ape his Stakhanovite work habits, it is hard to imagine anyone matching his achievements for the simple reason that they cannot match his God-given talents.

“Nine,” he said when asked how many different shots he could play with the same club: “Straight, right to left, left to right and then three different trajectories — low, high and regular. Then there is an infinite number in between. Each and every day is different. Each and every lie is different and every situation is different. And you have got to be able to call upon all those shots at any time and have complete confidence you can pull it off.”

There have been countless attempts over the decades to define golfing perfection but surely none has been as wise or as succinct. Likewise, there have been great players through the ages but Woods is the first player in history, save perhaps for Bobby Jones, who was playing in a less competitive era, to give perfection a run for its money.

© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008