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Tiger struggles to stay on the straight and narrow

Last updated on: April 13, 2010 16:43 IST

Woods showed he has not changed



Tiger Woods returned to Augusta promising a cleaned-up act but delivered a mixture of the impossibly good and some rank bad golf plus a sprinkling of behaviour bordering on the ugly.

He had promised a "more respectful" approach to the game but in many ways during four days of white-hot US Masters competition, Woods showed he has not changed from the pre-scandal version of the world number one.

True, the worst expletives and club-throwing which have marred his majestic play of the last couple of years were gone but Woods still struggled to maintain his cool when a drive or approach shot soared a fairway's width away from its target.

"Ti-ger -- you suck!" he hollered at himself and quite often he was right.

His technique verged from the sublime to the almost ridiculous, often within the space of a couple of holes, with only an unmatched determination not to cede ground to his rivals taking him to his eventual fourth place behind winner Phil Mickelson.

One minute in a final round of 69, he was carving a Sunday hacker's drive deep into a copse, the next he was fashioning an extraordinary recovery from pine needles over sky-high trees to within 10 feet of the pin from about 190 yards.

The next moment he would be miserably pushing a snatched four foot putt past the hole for a bogey with the attitude of a man who had apparently lost his technique and touch completely.

Photographs: Reuters

Image: Tiger Woods


'We love you, Tiger'

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Fans who feared that this extraordinary player, who had pocketed 14 major titles before his dramatic fall from grace through a string of extra-marital affairs, had lost his fighting spirit and frightening will to win could have nothing to worry about.

Others hoping to see a more relaxed and amiable individual who had put the sport and its inevitable travails into perspective would largely have been disappointed, certainly on the final two days as the pressure grew.

Woods, in short, gave a pretty convincing impression of a golfer both temperamentally and technically on the very edge of his game. A man often literally struggling to keep his balance.

He could not have asked for a warmer welcome from the huge galleries who watched him and, as he had promised in a news conference, he initially engaged with the fans at every opportunity.

For the first two rounds, Woods continually tipped his cap to acknowledge his supporters, repeatedly saying 'Thank you' as the Georgian pines resounded with calls of 'Go Tiger' and 'We love you, Tiger'.

Image: Tiger Woods

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'I made too many mistakes around the greens'

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After five holes in Saturday's third round, however, the old Tiger with the hot tongue returned.

A poor swing on the par-three sixth tee sparked a profanity-laced outburst which was heard clearly on live television. Woods followed up by shouting to himself: "You suck!"

Further outbursts of mild swearing sporadically followed as the world number one went on a roller-coaster ride of great and dreadful golf for the final 30 holes of the tournament.

While many had doubted whether Woods would be able to contend at Augusta, he was not among them and he became increasingly frustrated as he failed to put more pressure on Mickelson in the final round.

"I wanted to win this tournament," he said after finishing five shots behind his compatriot and arch-rival. "As the week wore on I kept hitting the ball worse.

"I entered this event and I only enter events to win and I didn't get it done. I didn't hit the ball good enough and I made too many mistakes around the greens, consequently I'm not there."

Asked whether it would take him more time to control his on-course emotions since he pledged to show more respect for the game, he replied with a look almost of contempt.

"People are making way too much of a big deal of this thing," he said. "I was not feeling good. I'm not going to be walking around there with a lot of pep in my step because I hadn't hit a good shot yet."

Image: Tiger Woods

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I'm going to take a little time off: Woods

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Woods gave no hint as to the next event he would play on the PGA Tour.

"I'm going to take a little time off and kind of re-evaluate things," he said.

With the June 17-20 US Open at Pebble Beach the next major on his horizon, Woods is likely to compete in at least two tournaments before then.

The May 6-9 Players Championship at the PGA Tour's headquarters in Florida is a virtual certainty, given its status as the unofficial fifth major at the venue where he made his first public apology following his stunning fall from grace.

Also likely is the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial tournament in Dublin, Ohio from June 3-6 where he typically plays.

The April 29-May 2 Quail Hollow Championship in Charlotte, North Carolina is another possibility and Woods has until the Friday before that week to commit to the event.

Wherever he does play next, the world number one will not have the luxury of the tightly controlled environment at Augusta and he could well experience his first on-course heckling since he became engulfed in his sex scandal.

Should he be heckled by the fans, he will have to negotiate yet another severe test of his ability to keep his now notorious tongue in check.

It will also help if he can start regularly hitting the ball straight again.

Image: Tiger Woods

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