Date: November 13, 2011

False dawn?

By John Huggan, Editor-at-Large So it was, yet again, a false dawn. After a second round 67 that had him looking down on the rest of the field here at the Emirates Australian Open, many were those ready to re-anoint Tiger Woods as the premier golfer on the planet, or at least here at The Lakes. But, while that may yet come to pass only a fool would write off a man capable of winning 14 major championships the world number 58 showed today how rusty his game and competitive edge remain. A third round of 75 leaves Woods in a rather forlorn tie for eighth place, as many as six shots behind leader John Senden. Still, such a decline on what American television commentators love to call moving day, should not come as that much of a surprise. This is, after all, a man who has played only sparingly over the last few months. This is a man who has suffered a series of injuries since he last won a tournament, the 2009 Australian Masters at Kingston Heath. That s a lot to overcome in only his tenth event of a much-interrupted season. nly six times in 2011 has Woods completed all four rounds in stroke play tournaments. The crumbling and decay started early on day three and never really stopped. From the middle of the first fairway he missed the green with a wedge. The tee-shot at the second was wildly hooked, the approach long, the chip clumsy. The third fairway was also missed to the left; the green was missed from the subsequent sandy lie; and the par-putt from eight feet or so suffered a similar fate. In other words, no part of the Woods game was firing. Where the day before the engine was purring smoothly, 24 hours later the sputtering was palpable and regular. Those dropped shots at the opening three holes set the tone and Woods never really recovered. Still, one piece of the Woods jigsaw remains unchanged from the halcyon days of maybe a decade ago. This is a man who never ever gives up. In that respect he is the model to which every golfer should aspire. There might be signs of frustration and the odd curse word but when it comes time to hit the next shot, Woods bears down like no other. As it is with Rafael Nadal, the tennis player, to beat Woods you have to almost kill him in the process. It is an admirable trait, one that augurs well for whatever future the 35-year old Californian still has at the highest level of a game he has dominated on and off the course – for the last decade and a half. By the end, he was, not surprisingly, less than chuffed with his day on the links. Where the previous day he had waxed lyrical about his seven-birdie, two-bogey performance, this time round there was a more resigned and downbeat air to the proceedings. I got off to just an awful start, he (predictably) said. And I hit a couple of terrible shots at two and 11. But the big problem I had was on the greens. They were so much firmer today. On the front-nine I wasn t ready for that and so missed every putt on the high side going out. Then I over-compensated coming back and missed every putt low. It was very frustrating. I need a good start tomorrow if I m to get back into contention. Anything can happen on the back nine here.