Perhaps this is a semantic issue, clouded by the use of a particular term that enjoys common usage in another popular sport.
Tiger Woods once ranked among golf’s greatest “closers”, by whatever yardstick or definition. Although the use of that particular word these days is enough to spark conversation and fan blow back.
With the polarising Woods, what else is new?
He was nicely positioned in the final round of the lucrative BMW Championship last weekend for another trademark win. At an attackable venue that had surrendered a record-tieing 59 earlier in the week, Woods was four shots behind the leader Jim Furyk, who had lost five successive 54-hole leads in PGA Tour play.
Make it six. Yet Woods, in what has become a vexing pattern, stumbled to yet another final-round slow start and was never in the mix.
In the broader context, Woods has won a tour-high five times in 2013 – but only when owning at least a share of the lead after three rounds.
The American analyst Johnny Miller, never one to let the obvious pass without weighing in, watched Woods meander aimlessly through another comeback opportunity and said: “He’s won five times, but something is a little haywire there in the final rounds.”
In baseball, a closer is a pitcher inserted into the game in the final innings and tasked with nailing down a victory. No question, Woods remains a terrific front-runner. But if we are playing word games, then closing the Sunday gap from behind has become a figment of his past.
It is not just the anecdotal sense of certainty that has evaporated when Woods has contended, especially at major championships, where his final-day shortcomings have been detailed at length over the past two years.
A Sunday slide in more general terms is downright quantifiable.
Before his personal life became an issue, in 2009, Woods mustered the US tour’s top final-round scoring average four times in five years, including 2009. Since then, he has finished 125th, 11th, 32nd and, with one event left in 2013, the world No 1 is joint 118th.
Remarkably, even with five victories, Woods has produced one final round in the 60s all year, a two-under 69.
His final-round scoring average this season is 71.43, a career-worst mark for any full season with more than 10 Sunday chances. He is a cumulative four over for the year on the final day and has broken par once in his past eight attempts.
Again borrowing from the parlance of other sports, he clearly seems more effective playing defence than he is playing offence.