x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Tiger Woods' popularity on wane

A lack of success is hurting interest levels in the former world No 1, who may also be losing his mystique.

Only a small crowd watched Tiger Woods in a pro-am before the Australian Open yesterday.
Only a small crowd watched Tiger Woods in a pro-am before the Australian Open yesterday.

No more than 250 people followed Tiger Woods early yesterday at the Australian Open, a sign that while he still is the main attraction Down Under, it is not what it used to be.

When he first put Australia back on his golf schedule two years ago, some 15,000 fans complained during the pro-am round that news helicopters hovering over Kingston Heath in Melbourne kept them from hearing. The only noise over The Lakes came from endless flights taking off from the airport.

For sure, the novelty of Woods in Australia has worn off after three years. And in large extent, so has the mystique.

This is the two-year anniversary of the last time Woods won any tournament, at the Australian Masters in 2009, when he was on top of his game and No 1 in the world by such a large margin that it took nearly a year of mediocrity for someone to replace him. The scandal that shredded his personal life was exposed about two weeks after he got home.

That is 25 tournaments worldwide, no trophies to show for it.

As always, no one is sure what to expect when he tees off today. In his last start a month ago at the Frys.com Open, he was never a factor and tied for 30th. In his previous start seven weeks earlier, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship.

There remain questions whether Woods can contend, something he hasn't remotely done since the Masters in April, and constant speculation whether he can ever get back to the top.

"It is such a visible rehab for him," Geoff Ogilvy, the defending Australian Open champion, said. "I can get injured and no one cares or notices. He ties his shoes wrong and it's world news."

Woods has attributed his demise mostly to the physical part of his game - changing swing instructors in August 2010, then coping with injuries to his left knee and Achilles' tendon that eventually led to him out of golf for four months. His peers that once expected nothing but the best have not given up on him. That includes Adam Scott, who finds himself in the middle of a spat between Woods and Steve Williams, his ex caddie.

"You can lose the form, but you never lose that talent," Scott said. "I'd love to be at the top of my game when he is back at top of his game," he said. "I've love to compete against him. I'd like that opportunity. I think it would be good for the game of golf."