x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

That's some staying power for Tiger

Woods will get displaced from top of golfers' rankings after 281 weeks – that is dominance unlike in any other sport.

For centuries, humankind has grappled with a beast that dresses up in natural beauty in an apparent bid to cloak its wretched savagery.

We call it simply "golf", and its outrageous meanness long has addled almost all people - even one Jack Nicklaus in phases - until in late 1975 humanity finally came up with a representative who could tackle the beast for shockingly prolonged periods.

That is the big picture, and that should be the emphasis tomorrow when a computer in Virginia Water, Surrey, England will commit a tabulation so jarring that its screen might spit. It will churn its weekly calculus of results and furnish a world men's golf ranking that will begin at No 1 with a name other than "Tiger Woods".

Either the name "Lee Westwood" or the name "Martin Kaymer" - almost surely Westwood - will reign, and after these last 281 weeks that is really something. What is even more really-something,however, is that in a game so trying and so elusive, any human name roosted up there for 281 uninterrupted weeks.

Just because a phenomenon grows familiar shouldn't mean it cannot remain remarkable.

So golf abounds with questions. So is this good for golf? (Probably.) So are Westwood and Kaymer worthy even though Westwood has not won a major tournament? (Yes.) So did the computer favour Woods too long? (No.) Could the Dubai Desert Classic in February brim with rankings fun given Woods' planned presence? (Sure.)

Over all of those, though, lay this one: how long has it been June 12, 2005? (In this breakneck century, a long, long time.)

That June 12, a Sunday, little 25-year-old Sergio Garcia won the title at the Booz Allen Classic golf tournament in the US. He putted excellently, which constituted news.

Well behind him, in 29th place in the eternally unforgiving game, stood Vijay Singh, who needed to tie for second place or better in order to retain his No 1 world ranking. After replacing Woods at No 1 in September 2004 and ending that year atop the list, the grinding Fijian had spent early 2005 wrestling with Woods.

Singh had held No 1 for nine weeks, then Woods for two, then Singh for three, then Woods for six after he won the Masters, then Singh for three in mid-May after Woods unthinkably missed the cut at the Byron Nelson tournament in Texas, the first normal cut he had missed since 1997, itself a positive absurdity.

With Woods sitting out the Booz Allen Classic and Singh finishing 29th, the golfers moved on to the US Open in North Carolina, where in Woods's pre-tournament press conference, the chatter centred on his friend Annika Sorenstam, who had just won the LPGA Championship to snare half the grand slam. "If I could hit it that straight, man," Woods said of Sorenstam, drawing laughter in a lighter time.

Nobody brought up Woods's ranking. The tug-of-war had grown normal.

Tugs-of-war in demanding games with carefully calibrated computer rankings usually are normal. Since that time in women's golf, the No 1 ranking has shifted nine times. In volatile women's tennis, it has gone from Lindsay Davenport to Maria Sharapova to Davenport to Sharapova to Davenport to Kim Clijsters to Amelie Mauresmo to Justine Henin to Sharapova to Henin to Sharapova to Ana Ivanovic to Jelena Jankovic to Ivanovic to Serena Williams to Jankovic to Williams to Dinara Safina to Williams to Safina to Williams to Caroline Wozniacki.

(Let us pause to breathe.)

It qualifies as impressive that in men's tennis, only two players (possibly the two best ever) have held No 1 since June 2005. Only two is remarkable, but only one?

From that men's golf top 10 of June 12, 2005, there remains only one other player (Phil Mickelson) in the current top 10. Rory McIlroy (No 9 last week) had just turned 16 years old. Kenny Perry, No 10 back then, just turned 50. It rates splendid that Ernie Els (No 3 then) hangs at No 11, that Retief Goosen (No 5) remains a sturdy No 17, that Padraig Harrington (No 11) sits at No 19.

More often, rugged normalcy has ruled. Singh, at 47, ranks No 79. Garcia and Adam Scott, the younger-than-Woods sorts poised to bob upward then, are at Nos 69 and 40, respectively.

Chris DiMarco of the taut play-off with Woods at the 2005 Masters, ranked No 8 then, rests at No 443, where lurk plenty of excellent golfers plying a hard, hard game. Trevor Immelman, No 15 just after winning the Masters at 28 in 2008, ranks No 239.

Injuries, real life and the game's ever-mysterious ruthlessness intrude. The personal issues of real life got Woods, according to the savants, and golf doesn't really need real life's help to get somebody. It just comes as still startling that it could not get somebody out of No 1 for 281 weeks.

And the fact the same person had a previous, separate run of 264 weeks up to 2004? That almost defies human-versus-beast comprehension.

cculpepper@thenational.ae