x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Viewing superstar figures on the slide

With the best days of Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters now in the past, American sports fans will be less inclined to follow the trio of superstars.

Tiger Woods lets go of his club after hitting from the 10th tee at Pebble Beach Golf Links during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament in Pebble Beach, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) *** Local Caption *** Pebble Beach Golf.JPEG-04ac4.jpg
Tiger Woods lets go of his club after hitting from the 10th tee at Pebble Beach Golf Links during the final round of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament in Pebble Beach, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 12, 2012. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg) *** Local Caption *** Pebble Beach Golf.JPEG-04ac4.jpg

Black Americans, as a certain comic points out, faced fewer time commitments before Tiger Woods and the Williams sisters came along.

Half-jokingly, she observes, there arose an obligation to start following golf and tennis - the so-called "country club" sports long defined by almost exclusively white participants and devotees.

Suddenly, weekends had to be spent watching Tiger, Serena and Venus lord over their domains. (Droves of fellow Americans, of course, tuned in, too, the appeal of these athletes transcending race.)

Last year, people of all stripes got back some of their leisure hours.

Woods, recovering from the one-two punch of injuries and a collapsed marriage, was limited to nine PGA Tour events, even missing two cuts (and the final two rounds on Saturdays and Sundays).

Serena, herself idled by ailments that included a serious blood clot in a lung, managed only 25 singles matches and one tournament title in 2011 while missing three of the four slams. She would have been better off skipping all of them, her US Open ending with an early exit and an unsportsmanlike tantrum.

Venus, weakened by autoimmune disease, never advanced beyond the fourth round of a grand slam tournament.

Although a new calendar may have regenerated hope for the threesome and their galleries, expectations must be tempered. Face it: all are on the backside of their careers.

Limping a year ago from a sore leg, Woods, 36, appeared pain free at the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. On Sunday, he just transferred the pain over to the audience.

The script seemed already written entering the final round, with only minor details to be filled in.

Woods trailed the leader by two on a layout where he once won the US Open by 15 strokes. He was grouped with Phil Mickelson, the nemesis who unleashes the competitive juices of the former world No 1. He was fresh off a third round of 67, headline writers were working on clever versions of "Woods is Back." Scalpers of tickets to the Masters in April were calculating how much to raise their asking price.

On the final day, Woods laid an egg large enough to feed a school. His 75 equalled the round's fifth highest score. Worse, Mickelson walked off with the prize.

Twenty-six. That is how many consecutive tournaments in which Woods has swung and missed. (He counts a recent win in the Chevron World Challenge, but it was not PGA sanctioned and consisted of 18 players.)

Who knew at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship two weeks ago that it would foreshadow Pebble Beach? Woods and his camp spun the performance as encouraging, building a case around his aggregate 11-under par through three days.

Yet his trademark red shirt for Sunday's rounds no longer brings out a white flag of surrender. He closed with a non-threatening 72, worth a tie for third.

Fear Woods has given way to grabbing a tiger by the tail.

He could win again, given that golfers can thrive deep into midlife. By contrast, the term "dog years" is applicable to tennis players. They tend to start early and age rapidly.

The Williams sisters - Serena is 30, Venus 31- have outlasted contemporaries in their elite league, among them Steffi Graf (done at 30) and Justine Henin (retired at 25, again at 28). Their longevity is attributable partly to light playing schedules and outside interests that postpones potential burnout.

Injuries cannot be deferred. Serena carried a bad ankle last month into the Australian Open. (Venus missed the tournament.) Barely mobile, Serena was drummed out in the fourth round by an unseeded foe.

The younger Williams dropped a hint in Australia that she might not be long for the game, saying: "I don't like anything that has to do with working physically ... I don't love tennis today, but I'm here, and I can't live without it."

Actually, it would be no surprise if either sibling responded to being told they must retire with: "Cool. More time for other stuff."

For Woods, on the other hand, life without golf would be nothing short of torturous.

Middle-age creep caught him by surprise. "When we're all younger," he said, "we feel bulletproof or invulnerable in that sense because we heal so much faster."

Although he might be adjusting mentally, his swing is not fitting consistently with his older body.

Whether the sun is setting on three stupendous careers, or is just increasingly hiding behind the clouds, is uncertain.

Either way, fans of Woods and the Williams sisters, especially African-Americans, will be chained less to their televisions or to the internet, checking results. Any further viewing of the trio hoisting a significant trophy might be available only on sports television's history channels.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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