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.

Golf Industry Blossoms at Azalea

In a previous post I touched on the fact that I spent last week working in the rolling countryside of Hampshire – just minutes from the scene of Havant & Waterlooville’s remarkable FA Cup triumph against Swansea.

But it wasn’t the chance of an historic cup upset that enticed me to spend a week so far from God’s Country (sunny Scotland). It was the chance to do some work with the living legend that is Pete Richardson – the golf industry’s answer to Max Clifford.

Pete will be known to most in the Scottish media as the smooth-talking Yorkshire lad who worked his way from Crime Reporter at the Yorkshire Evening Post to Deputy News Editor (I believe that was his title although I’m sure he will correct me if I’m wrong) at the Daily Record in Glasgow – which at the time was the UK’s fourth biggest tabloid in terms of circulation.

He eventually landed at Daily Record HQ via shifts at all the main national newspapers and landed his seat on the newsdesk after a series of gritty and hard-hitting exclusives as a reporter for the paper. I’m sure he remains the only employee ever to have had his leaving party (two of them in fact) sponsored by a brewery.

It’s safe to say that Pete has learned his craft at the hard end – which his series of front page exclusives and spreads adorning the walls of his office show – so he can be forgiven for making the switch to the altogether more relaxed world of golf marketing.

The transition couldn’t have gone any better and Pete now runs The Azalea Group, a company specialising in intelligent golf marketing. I have never asked him but I presume the name “Azalea” is taken from the hole of the same name at Augusta, home of the US Masters, and the fact that the flower is prevalent at the US home of golf.

That aside, it’s a safe bet that if you read or hear something about golf in the national, local or specialist press, then it has passed over the desk’s of The Azalea Group at some point along the way.

The company is as slick as it gets and filled with talented people brimming with enthusiasm, ideas and, most of all, a sense of fun. All of which is hardly surprising if you know Pete.

First up is Dave Bowers, as experienced a sports hack as you are likely to find. His cantankerous and curmudgeonly exterior is merely a smokescreen to hide his true qualities. He is a smooth operator (he tells me he can find anything on his desk among the piles of clutter and I believe him), a skilled writer and although he will have you believe otherwise, a thoroughly decent guy into the bargain.

His young prodigy and right-hand man in the writing stakes is Lee Todd, who is as comfortable producing incisive and hard-hitting articles as he is gladhanding it with the most high profile of golfing afficionados. I’m told he is also a top darts player but, for fear of being soundly embarrassed at the oche, I hope to never find out if that is true.

Henry Alliss returned to Azalea the day I arrived following a two week break in Kenya – during the height of the recent troubles. Unfazed, he promptly announced that he was completely unaware of the sensitive political situation in the country but did wonder why the streets were lined with riot police at every corner. I suspect the Pulitzer Prize won’t be winging it’s way to Henry in the near future.

Aside from his adventures, the marketing expert has charm and charisma in abundance – qualities which never fail to impress in his industry. Of course, you wouldn’t expect anything less, given that Henry is the son of golfing and commentating legend Peter Alliss, whose soothing tones help make Sunday afternoon watching the final round of the Open such a magical experience. He did manage to smash a glass during an office reconfiguration during the week but he can be forgiven for that – usually he would just get the houseboy to do it for him.

Sally Bull, as office manager, is the heartbeat of the operation without whom it would all just fall to pieces – or so she tells me.

I also briefly met Roger Wolfe and his alter ego Little Roger Wool (think Dr Evil and Mini-Me). Roger was only in the office for one day while I was there before he jetted out to Orlando “on business” but struck me as another top professional. Never let anyone in the golf industry tell you it is hard work!

All in all it was an extremely enjoyable week working in such prestigious company and, having seen them in action, I have no doubt that Azalea will continue to blossom under Pete.

Thanks to all at Azalea.