x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Woods looks for positives

An out-of-sorts Tiger targets a return to form in the Buick Open, a happy hunting ground for sub par scores.

Tiger Woods has plenty to work on, especially his tee shot swing which fell apart on the windswept Ailsa links for the British Open, as he plays three back-to-back events.
Tiger Woods has plenty to work on, especially his tee shot swing which fell apart on the windswept Ailsa links for the British Open, as he plays three back-to-back events.

As some of golf's golden oldies continue to grab the limelight on both sides of the Atlantic, Tiger Woods has the chance to atone for his Turnberry disappointment when he returns to PGA Tour action today at the Buick Open. Since missing the cut in the British Open for the first time a fortnight ago, Woods has been working hard to repair the damage. He has had plenty of work to do, both on a swing, which fell apart over the windswept Ailsa links, and on his normally rock solid state of mind.

It was not the first time that we have seen Tiger throwing clubs when things weren't going well, but it was still surprising to witness a player renowned for great mental strength providing such a display of frailty as he did in Scotland. He badly needs to flush his bad Turnberry memories away and gets the chance at Warwick Hills in a tournament from which he can draw many positives. Tiger won the Buick Open in 2002 and 2006, and in eight appearances all but one of his 32 rounds have been under par while he has finished outside the top 10 only once.

Before leaving Turnberry, Tiger caused some raised eyebrows when he said that he had played well barring two tee shots, when clearly there was a great deal going wrong with his swing. But it is this ability to bury disappointments and take confidence out of bad weeks which makes him such a formidable competitor, with the ability and the will to extract the very best he can get out of a round. The 80 per cent swing that he has called on to produce his best golf this year basically patches up the problems he has, although it could still be good enough to see him drive away in another brand new Buick and with the $900,000 (Dh3.3million) winner's cheque.

He is more interested though in next week's WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone and of course the USPGA Championship at Hazeltine the following week. It is unusual for Tiger to play three weeks in a row, but this could be crucial as he looks to sharpen his game and chase a 15th major. There was no car or winner's cheque for Mark Calcavecchia in last week's Canadian Open, but the 48-year-old American earned another place in golf's record books by grabbing nine consecutive birdies in the second round for a PGA Tour record.

Calcavecchia is another who enjoys turning back the clock, as well as breaking records. He produced some great golf at Turnberry on his way to a top-30 finish to remind us of his Open victory 20 years earlier. He once led the PGA Tour statistics with a 93-putt tournament total and a 256-shot aggregate. Although those landmarks have since been eclipsed by David Frost and Tommy Armour lll, Calcavecchia remains a fierce competitor and should become a major threat in seniors golf after turning 50.

That fact will not be lost on Loren Roberts, who experienced just how tough it already is to win a big seniors title at Sunningdale on Sunday. The presence of Turnberry hero Watson and other evergreen world stars like Greg Norman and Bernhard Langer produced bumper crowds, and it was Roberts who came through to capture his second Seniors Open Championship. He did it the hard way, birdying four holes on the back nine on Sunday to make the play-off and then seeing off Fred Funk and finally Mark McNulty over the extra holes.

As a result, Roberts wins a place in next year's British Open Championship at St Andrews, but his immediate priority is this weekend's US Seniors Open Championship at Crooked Stick in Carmel, Indiana. There has been no time for golf's top 50-somethings to catch their breath after Sunningdale, and there will be no let up in the schedule for Watson, whose second place at Turnberry earned him an invitation to the USPGA Championship.

It is a crucial time for ladies' golf, with the importance of this week's British Open at Royal Lytham heightened by the fact that the US and European teams for the forthcoming Solheim Cup will be finalised immediately afterwards. The pressure is on Michelle Wie and veteran Julie Inkster to persuade US captain Beth Daniels to add them to the 10 players automatically qualifying for the team. For the Europeans, Sophie Gustafson has found form at the right time, with second place in last week's Evian Masters lifting her to fifth on the money list.

Gustafson, who lost to a birdie at the first play-off hole by Japan's Ai Miyazato, has the qualities which captain Allison Nicholas badly needs to help Europe triumph. In addition to her solid play she has the experience and drive to motivate the younger players around her. At a time when financial gloom poses questions marks over tournament prize money as sponsors streamline their businesses to survive, the PGA European Tour welcomes a new event today when the Moravia Silesia Open gets under way.

It is the first time for 12 years that the Tour has visited the Czech Republic, which originally staged a feeder Challenge Tour event. That was won in 1997 by Czech-born Alex Cejka, who left the country with his parents as a nine-year-old refugee to re-settle in Germany. Cejka would love to win on "home" soil again and is looking to build on his display at the PGA Tour's Players Championship earlier this year where he led after three rounds, before falling away.

No one knows the new venue better than Miguel Angel Jimenez who co-designed the course. He looks to capitalise on his local knowledge while Ricardo Gonzalez aims to complete back-to-back wins after his dramatic victory in last week's SAS Masters in Malmo, Sweden. (Former Tour player Philip Parkin is a golf commentator for the BBC in Europe and Golf Channel in the USA) pparkin@thenational.ae