x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Tiger shows he is still the man to beat

With the golfer's comeback from injury complete, his US Open title defence is a real possibility after the American's Memorial trophy triumph.

With the US Open due to start at Bethpage in New York on Thursday week, Woods has sent out a blunt message to his rivals.
With the US Open due to start at Bethpage in New York on Thursday week, Woods has sent out a blunt message to his rivals.

Tiger Woods and Roger Federer have developed a kindred spirit towards dealing with the fame, fortune and responsibility that comes with being top of your sporting profession. No sooner had the Swiss tennis genius equalled the American golfing master's record of 14 major titles on Sunday, Woods was in the process of making a stunning response in Dublin, Ohio which raised suggestions that his 15th major triumph is imminent.

The way that Woods, who missed only five fairways in the 72 holes of the Memorial Tournament, chased down the leaders on the final afternoon to snatch the trophy by a single stroke, was vintage Tiger and his stunning return to form is most timely. With the US Open due to start at Bethpage in New York on Thursday week, Woods has sent out a blunt message to aspiring champions that he is the man to beat - just as he was a year ago when defying severe knee problems to overcome his compatriot Rocco Mediate in an 18-hole play-off.

That painful success sent the world No 1 into golfing exile for eight months to have the problematic joint properly repaired and he demonstrated on Sunday for the benefit of any remaining doubters that he has made a complete recovery from that surgery. "I have been able to start practising again after rounds," Woods disclosed when providing the key to his brilliant display. "It was just about being patient. I knew it was coming round.

"I had been close to winning but the game wasn't quite there when I needed it on the final Sunday. I rectified that here. It was nice to play this well going into the US Open. This is how you have to hit it in order to win US Opens." An outrageous chip in from heavy rough around the 11th green for eagle and two birdies on the final two holes when the pressure was at its most intense helped Woods secure his 67th career title.

Runner-up Jim Furyk, a good friend of Woods, suggested this result end all the media sniping about the world No 1 being a shadow of his former self. "I just wish you would all quit writing him off," he said. "I think he has answered a lot of questions today. Michael Letzig who partnered Woods in the final round was awestruck. "It was the best golf I'd ever seen," said Letzig, who finished 14th after a three-over par 75. "I tried not to watch him, but some of those shots were unreal."

Jack Nicklaus, the memorial tournament host, was hugely impressed with Woods's display. Nicklaus, who has won a record 18 majors, is resigned to being surpassed one day. "I suspect No 15 will come for Tiger Woods in about two weeks," said Nicklaus at the trophy presentation. "If he drives the ball this way, and plays this way, I'm sure it will. And if not, it will surprise me greatly." Meanwhile Padraig Harrington, who won two of his three major titles while Woods was sidelined, is moving in the opposite direction to the great man and a failure to make the cut at the Memorial - the third time that has happened in four starts - led to the Irishman dropping out of the world's top 10.

wjohnson@thenational.ae