The Joy of Golf: Golf will survive even without the eyes on Tiger

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Star attraction: World No1 Tiger Woods remains the game's biggest draw.

In a Golf.com report published last week, it was estimated that a long-term injury, or retirement, by Tiger Woods would cost the $68 billion (Dh249.7bn) a year golf industry a whopping $15bn (Dh55bn).

At first glance, and without unpacking the details too much, the figure seems exaggerated.

It was based mostly on the fact that this year’s Masters drew a US TV Rating of 7.8 – the lowest since Phil Mickelson’s win in 2004 – and it assumes that the rating will be even lower for future tournaments because of Woods’ absence.

I am not so sure of the numbers, and I obviously do not possess a crystal ball.

However, I have two major issues with the report – one, it does great disservice to the legacy already created by Woods, and two, it is disrespectful towards some of the current and future stars of the game.

However, based on what transpired across the globe in four tournaments and spanning four major tours last week – which saw four very popular victories – I think golf is doing pretty well in the absence of its greatest star.

On the European and Asian Tour co-sanctioned Malaysian Open, Lee Westwood won by seven shots.

He was the highest ranked player in the tournament, and even though he had not won a title in the last two years, there was a lot of expectation from the two-time European No1.

The Englishman did not disappoint.

His victory must have eased some pressure on European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, who would be a bit worried with the form of some of his more experienced players.

More importantly, it will reassure Westwood that all the tough decisions he has taken lately – the move to Florida, change of coach etc – is paying off.

On the PGA Tour, Matt Kuchar was the sentimental favourite going into the RBC Heritage at Hilton Head.

In contention on Sundays in the last three tournaments, including at the Masters, the ever-smiling American was having trouble in closing it out.

But he did that in style, holing out a spectacular bunker shot for a birdie on the last.

The shouts of ‘Koooooooch’ that followed were deafening to say the least.

Kuchar may not be as big a personality as some of the other players, but his pleasant nature, and the consistency of his golf, has helped him win the hearts of fans across the globe.

On the Champions Tour, Miguel Angel Jimenez was making his debut at the Greater Gwinnett Championship.

And the Spaniard, considered the coolest player in the game, gave a full display of his laid-back charm and won ahead of Bernhard Langer and Fred Couples.

And finally, on the LPGA Tour, Michelle Wie won the Lotte Championship.

It was the first win in four years for ‘Big Wiesy’, but more importantly, it came in her home state of Hawaii.

Ever since she qualified for an LPGA Tour event aged 12, the 24-year-old was looked upon as the next big thing in women’s golf.

It may have taken some time, but perhaps she can still live up to that billing from here on.

Tweet of the Week 
“Well done to The Mechanic winning his first tournament on the seniors tour. He can stay there too if he likes! Give us young lads a chance!” – Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) congratulates Miguel Angel Jimenez on his Champions Tour victory.

Quote of the Week
“To me, it’s not about money. It’s about some different goals to make me feel proud of myself. To me I would feel nice to play on the Ryder Cup once more.” – Jimenez after making a winning debut on the Champions Tour.

Stat of the Week
2,350,000 – dollars (Dh8.6m), the monthly salary of Matt Kuchar. Well…that’s what he made over the past four weeks. At Valero Texas Open, he finished tied-fourth for a cheque of $272,000, followed by $691,200 for finishing runner-up at Shell Houston Open. He was then tied-fifth at the Masters to bank $342,000, before his RBC Heritage win earned him a whopping cheque for $1.04 million. 

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The Joy of Golf: Masters report card

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Touch of class: Bubba Watson's consistency ensured he took home the Green Jacket.

It was not quite the same display of raw emotion witnessed in 2012, when Bubba Watson sealed his first Masters title.

But the calm and considered fist pump gave a different insight into the mindset of the 35-year-old, notably that he now expects to win Major championships.

More are sure to follow for the unique and likeable lefty, who showed all his growing experience on a tense final round at Augusta.

Here is my report card for the main players at the 78th Masters:

Bubba Watson (10/10)

The American says it has been a learning process these last two years after winning his first Masters. Looks like he has learnt well. You do keep wondering how he manages to be so consistent in hitting the golf ball, considering his right leg is almost always in the air and moving at the point of impact, but Watson’s hitting was just sensational. And no better example of that then his drive on the par-5 13th on Sunday, which left him with a wedge for his second shot. Obviously, Tiger Woods and many other players in the past have conquered the par-5s at Augusta National to ensure their Green Jackets. That really is the key on this difficult golf course. But no one has ever brought the par-5s to their knees like Bubba did last week. What we also loved is that Watson has learnt not to publically shout and insult his caddie, J Ted Scott, every now and then in the middle of the round. He still stares at him after every missed putt. Hopefully, that will also change by the time of the next Masters.

Jordan Spieth (9/10)
Giving him a nine only because the boy wonder did not get it done on Sunday evening. But what a player! Just 20, the tag of being golf’s ‘Next Tiger Woods’ fits him well. There was no doubting his immense talent and skills – you do not get into the top-10 of the world in a little over one year of turning pro without them – but the Masters proved how mentally strong he is.

Jonas Blixt (9/10)
Another rookie who gave an excellent account of himself. While speaking to his Swedish compatriot Henrik Stenson last year, the world No3 was quick to point out Blixt as the one to watch for the future. The 29-year-old has already won twice on the PGA Tour in the last two years, and was fourth in the PGA Championship last year, but finishing second in his first-ever Masters will surely enhance his reputation further.

Miguel Angel Jimenez (9/10)
Old wine and all that is fine, but this was a seriously brilliant display from the 50-year-old, who was in with a chance of becoming the oldest winner of the tournament before finishing fourth. Easily the shortest off the tee in the field among those who made the cut, the charismatic Spaniard once again showed that in golf, smart thinking is as important as brute force.

Bernard Langer (8/10)
Age does not seem to have dulled the German’s competitive instincts. A brilliant 69 on Sunday gave the 56-year-old a top-10 finish.

Fred Couples (7/10)
Two doubles on the back nine on Sunday denied the sweet-swinging American a top-five finish.

Lee Westwood (7/10)
Another top-10 for the Englishman at Augusta National and further proof that his game is trending in the right direction.

Rory McIlroy (6/10)
The pre-tournament favourite got beaten by the golf course in the second round, and by his noncompeting marker in the third, but managed to record his first top-10 Masters finish. Looked good most of the time, except when making 77 on Friday.

Henrik Stenson (5/10)
Tied-14 is a personal best for the world No3 at the Masters, but he is sure to have come out frustrated considering he had high hopes.

Jason Day (5/10)
The Aussie has always done well in the Masters, but given he was playing his first competitive event in six weeks because of a thumb injury, tied-20 wasn’t a bad effort at all.

Matt Kuchar (5/10)
I would have given the American a lot more than five for finishing tied-fifth, but it was the third successive week when he faded when in contention over the weekend.

Adam Scott (4/10)
A lot more was expected from the defending champion than a tied 14th finish, which included an ugly 76 in the third round.

Phil Mickelson (2/10)
Lefty did not come into the tournament with the right kind of buildup, but such is his mastery over Augusta National (three wins, only one previous missed cut in 21 starts), you anticipated a much better result than rounds of 76 and 73 and a missed cut from him.

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Sport 360° view: Bubba proves driving power isn’t the only part of his chassis

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From the hips: Bubba proves his skill isn't limited to the tee.

Next year’s champions dinner could be interesting. Bubba Watson celebrated his second Masters victory in a Waffle House with his wife and friends. Since the tradition began in 1952, when Ben Hogan first hosted the former winners, waffles are not known to have featured on the menu. 

Maybe Watson couldn’t get in T-Bonz Steakhouse on Washington Road. Or perhaps this was just another day in Bubbaland.

The tendency has been to dismiss Watson as a Florida backwoodsman. The waffle fits neatly into that stereotype.

Project that on to the course and he becomes a golfer of the “rip it and grip it” variety. Watson does give it a fearsome bash, but there is subtlety in his hands and strategy in his thinking, neither of which fits the crude packaging of Bubba the primate.

His handling of the storm that was 20-year-old Jordan Spieth, who opened up a two-shot advantage early on Sunday, revealed a man in possession of himself.

He allowed the tempest to blow itself out. The 366-yard drive at the climax to Amen Corner, the parfive 13th, was both signature swipe and deciding blow, his left-handed fade tracing the line of the dogleg like a dialled-in missile.

It left him a gap wedge to the green, the same one he used to tame Louis Oosthuizen in the playoff two years ago.

Spieth was by now almost a forgotten man rummaging for his ball among the pine needles to the right of the fairway. With five to play Watson was three strokes to the good, an advantage he maintained all the way to the tap-in for par on the 18th that secured his second Green Jacket.

The scenes on the 18th had echoes of his first triumph, without the intensity.

From an emotional perspective this was Bubba-lite, an evolved version of the same specimen, matured to a point where control is achievable as long as he gulps enough air before he speaks.

His adopted son Caleb had been his for only seven days two years ago. Here he toddled towards his father on the green, a diversion gratefully embraced, for it allowed Watson to be a dad as opposed to a crumbling wreck.

“You play a little golf today?” he asked Caleb, the small talk drying what tears remained on the way to Butler Cabin to pick up his Green Jacket.

The victory speech was comparatively contained compared to two years ago where victory had overwhelmed him.

With this win Watson, now the world No4, announces himself as a player of real substance. His victory at Augusta was also notable for its mastery of a course that historically has favoured a draw, the fundamental tool of right handers. Watson’s left-handed fade, just like three-time winner Phil Mickelson’s before him, replicated that shape of shot, contributing to the statistical quirk of left-handers claiming six of the past 12 victories.

More significant is this stat: Watson joins Hogan, Snead, Nicklaus, Palmer, Faldo, Woods and Mickelson as a player who has become a two-time Masters winner within a three-year span.

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