Slow play is killing golf – but what’s the rush?

With Tiger Woods and Adam Scott recently adding to the growing voices of discontent about slow play in the professional ranks, it has never been more of an issue in world golf.

Amateur and weekend golfers do not escape the criticism either with slow players taking the blame for the increasing number of golfers giving up the game because “they just don’t have the time.”

Logjammed weekend courses and 5-6 hour rounds are signalling the death knell for the game according to many commentators, agitators and proliferators.

But while I won’t defend the five-hour plus game in either professional or amateur golf, I do find myself wondering when golf changed from being an enjoyable yet competitive form of escapism to a frantic dash round 18 holes which leaves me more flustered than when I stepped onto the tee in the first place.

My article here at GOLFmagic.com argues why golfers should be allowed to play at their own pace (within reason). It’s safe to say judging by the comments, that not everyone agrees.

If any keen golfers haven’t yet checked out GOLFmagic.com then they should do so when they have a chance. Edited by Bob Warters, who formerly edited Today’s Golfer, FORE! and Golf Weekly, it is a great mix of serious reviews, contentious debates and light-hearted meanders down golfing memory lane.

As if that’s not enough, Bob has also agreed – under no duress whatsoever – to let me submit regular feature articles to the site. What more could you ask?

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Tiger’s Grand Slam bid a good bet – well who’s going to stop him?

It would seem that every golf journalist, blogger, columnist, analyst, pundit and golf fan is talking about just how good Tiger Woods is and whether this is the year he will complete the Grand Slam of all four ‘Majors’.

To be fair, it is a debate that surfaces at the start of every year because the famed Grand Slam is about the only thing Woods hasn’t yet done in his career (Jack Nickaus’ record of 18 Majors will be broken in time).

Therefore, it would be an admirable editorial stand for this blog to take should it decide not to join the hysterical debate and instead focus on other sporting matters rather than wax lyrical about Woods. However, the man is just too damn good to ignore.

Please accept my apologies now for following the crowd and adding to the already vast expanse of column inches and bandwidth dedicated to the world’s number one golfer.

There is no disputing Woods’ dominance of a game which is supposed to be difficult to play. He is so far ahead of everyone in terms of world ranking points that he could probably take a two year sabbatical from the game and still top the ranking table.

And, unfortunately for his “competitors” who are already failing to keep pace with him, Woods believes he is still improving as a golfer and says he can complete the Grand Slam this year – see BBC article here.

With most other sporting professionals you could blow that off as a player simply wanting to appear confident and gain a psychological advantage over his rivals. The hard truth is that Woods already has that advantage even before he steps onto the first tee and when he says it, you know it is because he believes it.

The statistics are also firmly in his favour. He has won the last four tournaments he has entered, including a seven week lay-off for Christmas, and since 2006 he has finished on top in 16 of the 32 PGA Tour competitions he has started. That’s an incredible 50 per cent success rate.

His most recent victory at the Buick Invitational, eight strokes ahead of his nearest rival, was his fourth in a row at the Torrey Pines course – the venue for this year’s US Open.

Of the other three ‘Majors’ he has already won five times at Augusta in the Masters and finished 3rd at Royal Birkdale, a course which is well-suited to his game, when The Open was last held there in 1998. If he finds himself teeing off in the USPGA at Oakland Hills in August with three of the four big ones already under his belt then he is not the kind of man who is likely to let that opportunity slip by.

The remarkable thing about seeing Woods play is that if you were to watch his 1st, 2nd and 4th rounds of the majority of tournaments he plays in, he would probably seem like just a really good golfer.

However, he seems to reserve one round – usually his 3rd – where his simply annhiliates both the course and the opposition. In short, Woods’ gameplan seems to be to keep pace with the leaders (if his ‘safe’ play isn’t already setting the pace) in the first two rounds, post a score in the 3rd and then protect his lead in the 4th, confident that he can step it up on the run home if he needs to.

It would tremendous if there were someone out there ready to consistently challenge Woods and set up some thrilling 4th round finales that would force him to play more than one round every tournament. I have already posted on the fact that I see Adam Scott and Justin Rose as two men who should be looking to shorten the gap.

We are undoubtedly missing the duels of old ala Jack Nicklaus v Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus v Tom Watson. Woods has never had a consistent challenger. Without a threat coming from his colleagues, Woods’ biggest challenges are the courses he plays and the records he attempts to break.

To that end it is Woods v 18 Majors and Woods v The Grand Slam and, as we know, Woods inevitably comes out on top.

As someone who admires the man as a sportsman and dedicated professional, I would love to see him do it- I’d just like someone to put him under a bit of pressure while he is at it.

Is Scott ready to tame the Tiger?

Anyone following the weekend’s golfing action and the subsequent media coverage could be forgiven for thinking they had stepped into a time warp taking them back a few years.

The Buick Invitational in San Diego saw Tiger Woods continue to dominate the sport, leaving others trailing in his wake and scratching their heads trying to come up with a plan to at least keep pace with the one-man birdie-machine. Nothing new there then.

While over on the European Tour in the Qatar Masters we were tantalised once again that Adam Scott, a man with the undoubted ability to challenge Woods, might now be ready to make the move from precocious talent to genuine golfing greatness. His final round of 61 was nothing short of magical and rivals anything I can remember seeing Woods accomplish in a final round (third rounds not inlcuded!)

But we have been here before. Since Scott burst onto the scene by winning the Dunhill Championship in South Africa in 2001, people have been touting him as the natural successor – or at least challenger – to Woods’crown.

His promise has, however, failed to fully materialise as yet and he has shown what he is capable of only in fleeting glimpses. That talent has brought him 13 professional tour wins and a regular place in the world’s top 10. However, his best year in the ‘Majors’ came in 2006 when he finished third, eighth and 21st in the US Open, The Open and the USPGA respectively. That, for Woods, would constitute an extremely poor year.

Scott is not alone. Others have threatened to move out of golf’s second tier and drag themselves closer to Woods but it has always been a short-lived affair. Justin Rose and, perhaps ludicrously, Rory McIlroy are the latest to be touted as having the ability to challenge Woods and the former should be considered as one of the main contenders.

Certainly Scott and Rose are two of the ones you would look at with both ability and age on their side to look to close that gap but they now have to step up to the plate and fulfil that potential. Scott’s final round in Qatar shows what he can do, even under pressure while Rose’s performances last year indicates that he has the mental strength needed to continually perform at a high level.

Whether they can dominate consistently when Woods’ is not in the field and challenge him when he is remains to be seen.

As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent. Woods oozes class.