x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Big names slip into anonymity in Dubai Desert Classic

It fit with a day you might call "The Revenge of the Semi-Anonymous" that those galacticos Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia led us around and into deflation.

Tiger Woods tries to hack his way out of trouble on the Majlis Course in Dubai yesterday.
Tiger Woods tries to hack his way out of trouble on the Majlis Course in Dubai yesterday.

Coverage of the Dubai Desert Classic

It fit with a day you might call "The Revenge of the Semi-Anonymous" that those galacticos Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia led us around and into deflation.

As the Quiros-Hansen-Kingston-Velasco-Gonnet-Strange-Aiken-Andersson led brigade played as if peeved at a lack of publicity, Woods and Garcia shepherded a thick band of humanity through Emirates Golf Club for an afternoon of putts sliding by and groans revving up.

That does not include the outright hushes during moments of outright horror, especially in the short game.

It was a lot of commotion for a couple of 75s, and along with the varying fades of Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy, it showed again golf's obstinacy, golf's insistence upon precision and golf's refusal to kowtow to the star-studded-television-show theme. There's no referee standing around ready to call a foul just because somebody dared to place a fingerprint upon the main attraction.

People did seem wowed to see them - well, especially Woods - and people did commit the etiquette transgression of storming off to the next hole once Woods had finished while Garcia had not.

And the masses did stage a velvet revolt against the camera rule as if either fractious or oblivious. Somewhere in Dubai during the night, at least one marshal woke and out of basic repetition began mumbling: "Put the camera away, please."

As Garcia birdied Nos 1 and 10 but nothing else, and Woods persisted with the stop-start, start-stop pattern of his latest swing-retooling phase, it grew easy to forget this Sunday capped a doubly encouraging week.

Garcia, with his own hiatus now history, toted along his muffled ranking of No 79 and his encouraging ninth-place showing the previous week in Qatar and settled into 20th in Dubai.

Woods, thought he inched upwards from his non-factor-hood in San Diego in late January, settled also into 20th in Dubai.

Garcia led for a spell on Saturday until his adventure into the ecosystem at No 17, and Woods played that alluring 66 on Friday and wound up using the phrase "a step in the right direction".

Garcia scurried off, but Woods said: "It's just like anything. All of my old feels are out the window when the wind blows, so that's the thing when you're making change. I went through this with Butch and I went through this with Hank."

"Butch" and "Hank" refer to past coaches Butch Harmon and Hank Haney, the predecessors to Sean Foley in the Woods cavalcade of coaches who might well have their own little hall of fame one day, rife with achingly tedious displays about swing mechanics.

"When it was calm this week," he continued, "I hit the ball pure," but when the wind blows, he must "shape shots and hit shots differently," and therein the duress.

On the telltale No 3, the gusty impurity led him from the right fringe of the fairway and then off the left side of the green in hungry grass, hinting that the day would not bring crescendos.

He sized it up and chunked a chip that looked ill during its meek flight until it fell and sought shelter in still more grass still shy of the green.

He kept calm even as he has not spent much of his globetrotting 35 years recording bogey sixes on par-fives.

Then, as if to put a fresh coat of cement on things, Garcia and Woods took turns flailing at the big-grandstand holes, Nos 9 and 18, whose greens nestle up to each other and mingle in the course configuration.

First, Garcia came to the par-four No 9 sitting reasonably at seven-under par until he took a trip right of the fairway behind some rude trees that occluded his view. He wisely laid up out into the fairway, but his third shot danced up on the front edge of the green until electing to halt, reverse course and go for a swim.

By the time his yip of a six-foot putt started toward the general vicinity of the hole with absolutely zero intention of going in, he had a triple-bogey seven and a reminder there's little sadder in golf than a hopeless putt for double-bogey.

Second, Woods came to the par-five No 18 with the day settled and the air casual and contention gone. Up just before the water in two clean shots, he shipped one that, too, danced on the foreground of the green for a spell before, too, deeming itself too dry.

So at the end of the day, just before a nice round of applause and an appreciative tip of the cap toward the grandstand from golf's biggest star, Woods finished a worthy two-putt and knocked in for a triple-bogey eight, not something you see every day but not something you yearn to remember nonetheless.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae