Paper Round
October 6, 2010

How Monty masterminded the win

Posted on 06/10/2010

Colin Montgomerie's ability to shut down the inflammatory side of his personality was of massive benefit to Europe at the Ryder Cup, according to Lawrence Donegan in the Guardian:

But what helped the European effort most of all was Montgomerie's achievement in bringing only the best of himself to Wales. All week the world's media was waiting for the voluble Scot to do his best Krakatoa impersonation and, God knows, he had plenty of chances.

Continue reading "How Monty masterminded the win"

October 4, 2010

Monty's pot of gold just over the rainbow

Posted on 04/10/2010

The Ryder Cup is heading into a fourth day after the Welsh weather made itself known over the weekend, but the prize is now within Colin Montgomerie's reach, writes The Sun's Steven Howard.

We've had it all - torrential rain, wind, mist, fog and even a little sunshine. Not to forget mud last seen at the Somme.

Yesterday we got our first rainbow. At the end of it, a pot of gold is now tantalisingly within Colin Montgomerie's reach.

Yesterday we had Monty as Mr Toad, leading the charge atop his buggy, racing from tee to green, hole to hole, with a wild-eyed fervour. The only thing missing were the goggles.

And Monty as Mr Motivator, on the end of a walkie-talkie that had seen so much use the previous day it had worn out three batteries. Charged up once again, the European skipper had asked his men to give the crowd something to cheer.

But even he must have been stunned by the brilliant kaleidoscope of shots with which his Ryder Cup heroes responded.

The rainbow that spread from one side of the Usk Valley to the other appeared not long after Lee Westwood sunk a six-footer on the 13th to put Europe's first points of the day on the board.

Continue reading "Monty's pot of gold just over the rainbow"

October 1, 2010

Monty has more to lose than anybody

Posted on 01/10/2010

They say stars are made in the Ryder Cup, but over the next three days there is one man who stands to lose more than anybody. Colin Montgomerie does not have a major title to define his career, so he falls back on an exceptional Ryder Cup record. However, as Martin Samuel points out in the Daily Mail, that all gets wiped away if he loses as captain...

When it came to reading out the achievements of Corey Pavin, the main port of call was Shinnecock Hills, New York, location of the 1995 US Open. Pavin won it by two shots from Greg Norman and in that moment assumed the mantle of the great golfer. He spent 150 weeks in the top 10 between 1986 and 1997, was PGA Player of the Year in 1991 and won tournaments from Milwaukee to Arrowtown, New Zealand. Yet even if those four days in June had been as good as it got, the record would show Pavin as deserving of his place in golf 's firmament.

There was no equivalent reference point for Colin Montgomerie. When his roll of honour was read, he did not have a brief moment in time that could comfortably define his career. Nobody mentioned his place in European tour history as winner of eight Order of Merit titles (seven consecutively). Nobody mentioned his 31 wins in Europe, or the fact he has taken second place at a major tournament on five painful occasions. Montgomerie had the Ryder Cup. Eight appearances and never lost a singles match, the audience was told.

In the United States, spectators may have wished for more but at Celtic Manor, they roared. On the stage, Montgomerie tried to find a third way between self-effacing and proud as punch. Yet, on the eve of his match debut as Ryder Cup captain, this is not in reality such an agreeable place to be.

Montgomerie is loving this week because, right now, he has the optimism of all Ryder Cup captains, but if the next three days do not unfold as planned, no predecessor has had farther to fall. Nick Faldo's performance in Louisville two years ago was almost toecurlingly bad, but asked to name the greatest British golfer of modern times, his name would be out before the sentence was completed.

Pavin forgot to introduce one of his players - Stewart Cink - at the opening ceremony yesterday, but even if the main event goes similarly awry, he can bask in the permanent magnificence of Shinnecock Hills.

For Montgomerie, this is it. He has turned what was once considered an almost ceremonial event in the United States - 'A couple of cocktail parties, we kick their butts and go home,' Tom Kite once said in the days before Europe got serious - into his life's mission. Fail and the Ryder Cup will no longer belong to him; fail and the comedown will be greater than any captain has known.

There have been other Ryder Cup mentors, great ones in fact, without a major to their name: in recent times, Sam Torrance, destroyer of Curtis Strange's United States team in 2002, and Bernard Gallacher, who held the job from 1991 to 1995, winning at the third attempt after two narrow disappointments, were similarly unadorned.

Yet these men were not great golfers, like Montgomerie. Gallacher did not play in the US Open or the PGA Championship, and never made the cut at the Masters. Torrance did not enjoy a top-15 finish at any major tournament outside Great Britain. Ryder Cup captaincy gave them the opportunity to cement a place in history; the wrong outcome and Montgomer ie's is damaged irrevocably.

There has been much talk of his captain's picks, but here Montgomerie is hostage to the simplest logic. If he wins, everything he did will be judged correct, if he loses he will have bungled. Sometimes sport is only black and white. A football manager who picks a weakened team and is eliminated from a cup competition cannot claim to have got the decision right; if his reserve XI wins, however, his critics have no ammunition.

The end justifies the means. There is an awful lot of jaw-jaw before every Ryder Cup - and a foolish amount of war-war, too, when Pavin is involved - but for the next three days Montgomerie is in the results business, nothing more. Win and he will never be asked about Paul Casey again.

September 30, 2010

Ryder Cup is not a superpower challenge

Posted on 30/09/2010

The tension is building as the Ryder Cup is now less than a day away from getting underway at Celtic Manor. It’s a huge occasion, massive, but the Telegraph’s Brian Moore has moved to play party pooper by attempting to rein the media, of which he is now one.

After Europe thumped the US in the 2006 Ryder Cup, captain Ian Woosnam publicly slated the BBC for not awarding his men the Sports Personality Team of the Year award, which went to St Helens rugby league club.

Perhaps he should have noted that, first, it was a vote by the fans that determined that award, and second, Europe that year had a far better team, were expected to win and did so; you should not get awards for doing the expected.

Behind Woosnam's displeasure lay the assumption that the Ryder Cup was such a special event that the winners, provided it is Europe, automatically deserve the accolade. That supposition appears to have evolved along with the purposeful portrayal of the tournament as something akin to war.

The structure of the Ryder Cup creates a number of interesting variables. Chief among these is that the US compete as a country outside their own borders, which is not the case in their three major sports. It is interesting to see how essentially solo performers react when asked to be part of a team. Moreover, the way in which the pairings and singles matches ebb and flow during the four days is fascinating, but let's get one thing straight – this is a golf competition, not some form of superpower challenge with attendant political ramifications.

This 2010 contest has the potential to be memorable, but for the wrong reasons. The choice of Tiger Woods in the US team has given some writers what they wanted: another chance to try to needle Woods into giving an undiplomatic reaction to a plethora of regurgitated and irrelevant questions about his personal life, many of which have the most tenuous connections to golf.

In a press conference on Tuesday one reporter showed not a shred of respect for Woods when he sneeringly put the following question: "You don't win majors any more, you don't win regular tournaments, you're about to be deposed as world No 1… is the Ryder Cup now your most important thing now you're almost an ordinary golfer?"

When Woods was faced with this impertinence he should have left the conference as no sportsman should have to put up with insulting behaviour. He stayed and tried to laugh it off because he knew that had he departed he would have been pilloried.

Had something similar been put to Sir Alex Ferguson about Manchester United the questioner would have got the answer he deserved. Had anyone mockingly asked me something similar in my playing days he would have got a righteous slap.

Nobody is asking for sycophantic toadying, but Woods is entitled to expect the basic courtesy that should be given to any interviewee; it is common decency.

Another reporter tried to generate sensation by asking what reaction Woods had seen from the US team's wives given that they play such a large part in the Ryder Cup. A large part; are they now involved in the planning and playing? And there were we just thinking they dressed smartly and cheered on their men.

There is sufficient rivalry, both on a team and a personal level, without the need to manufacture a personal spat between Woods and Rory McIlroy. The young Ulsterman's original comment, that he would not mind playing against Woods, came after Woods had shot 18 over par at Bridgestone.

When facing the media this week McIlroy was again peppered with questions about Woods and stressed the context of his comments. When pressed, McIlroy said nothing that could justify the claim made by the media that he had continued to stoke the supposed rivalry. What this should make plain to McIlroy is that no matter how neutral he thinks he is being, anything that he says can and will be twisted to suit the ends of those pursuing their own agenda.

July 28, 2010

US may benefit from no Tiger at Ryder Cup

Posted on 28/07/2010

After Corey Pavin revealed at the weekend that he was to seek showdown talks with Tiger Woods over the world No. 1's availability for the Ryder Cup in October, Martin Lipton in the Mirror suggests that the absence of Woods, who has never produced his best form in the biennial tournament, may be to the benefit of America.

If Pavin is honest, he might be hoping the answer is a firm and determined "No". Woods did not enjoy the scrutiny he was under at St Andrews.

Continue reading "US may benefit from no Tiger at Ryder Cup"

July 19, 2010

Tiger who?

Posted on 19/07/2010

As a golfer, you know how far you've fallen when Jon Daly's crazily coloured trousers are getting more TV coverage than your round at St Andrews. Which is exactly what happened to Tiger Woods, writes the Daily Mirror's Oliver Holt...

It felt strange following Tiger Woods around the Old Course yesterday. He was so far down the field that he teed off nearly two hours before the final pairing. Most last days of The Open in previous years, he hadn't even left his rented house by then. In fact, knowing what we know now, he probably hadn't even left his bedroom by then.

The applause from the crowd as he walked down the first fairway at the Home Of Golf was sympathetic. They knew he didn't have a chance of winning. They knew his life is a mess. They knew that before his fall from grace, he was strongly tipped to win the first three Majors this year. And that he has not won any.

There were a few plaintive cries of 'come on Tiger' from little lads perched on stone walls. It took a while to work out the tone of their voice. Then the penny dropped: they felt sorry for him. No one has ever felt sorry for Tiger Woods before.

The cheers came from the galleries all around him but they were not for him. There were only a handful of journalists following him instead of the hordes that usually trail in his wake. There were roars for the men behind him, the protagonists in the drama, the players battling to try to catch Louis Oosthuizen. Woods was never one of those players. He was too far back to be even close to being part of the shake-up.

He was playing at the margins of the tournament. He was playing for a place. Not for the big prize. The leaderboards positioned all around the course had plenty of names on them but none of them was Woods. After the end of his level-par round, Woods looked up at the scoreboard again. That man Oosthuizen was leading by eight shots, just like Woods had done here in 2000 when he was heading for the Tiger Slam. Those days are long gone now.

This year was supposed to offer Woods the chance of a Grand Slam in a calendar year with Majors at his three favourite courses - Augusta, Pebble Beach and St Andrews. The scandal surrounding his private life that engulfed him last year and forced him to take five months away from the game put paid to that dream.

So if he can't win at Augusta, Pebble Beach or St Andrews, where can he win? And when can he win? There is a possibility that he will never get back to where he was before and there is certainly a possibility that this fallow year has cost him his chance of overhauling Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 Major victories.

When he stood in the marquee next to the clubhouse, talking about where it had all gone wrong and looking at a board that said he had finished in a tie for 23rd spot, alongside Stephen Gallacher, Trevor Immelman and Graeme McDowell, he dismissed the idea he had missed an opportunity by not winning any of the last three Majors.

"That's just the way it goes," Woods said. "I'm not going to win all of them. I've lost a lot more than I've won."

The way things are heading, his ratio isn't going to get any better.


July 17, 2010

McIlroy's love life hits a stumbling block at St Andrews

Posted on 17/07/2010

At 21 years of age, there's a fair chance that Rory McIlroy has never experienced true love. But after his woeful second round at St Andrews on Friday, the Daily Mail's Derek Lawrenson feels sure McIlroy now knows what it feels like to be dumped by a trusted partner...

That's the trouble with love affairs, isn't it? Just when you're completely smitten and think it will always run smooth, you run into a little turbulence and it knocks you sideways. For his first nine rounds at St Andrews, Rory McIlroy thought he had found the perfect partner in the Old Course, one who never gave him a moment's bother. The 10th was the day she picked an argument.

What a windbag she proved to be. By the end the pair were having a full-blown row of epic proportions. You remember that stat about McIlroy never having failed to break 70 in those nine rounds, played in an aggregate of 43-under-par? Yesterday the poor lad couldn't break 80, finishing on that mark after a round without a single birdie.

You know what 21-year-olds are like. As he traipsed off the 18th green he looked absolutely crushed. How could his supposed great love be so cruel as to treat him like this? 'I have never experienced anything like that before,' he said. It brought back memories of Colin Montgomerie shooting 64 in the second round of the 2002 Open and coming in like a love-struck teenager, only to follow it with an 84. The wind blew a hoolie that day, too.

What an afternoon this was at St Andrews, with the winds at venomous speeds after lunch. After all the compliments the Royal and Ancient fielded in the build-up, here was an occasion that set player against ruling body. In mid-afternoon, the gusts blew so hard that balls were moving on the greens and a 65-minute suspension in play - the first in 12 years at The Open - was called. Then came the fury. The R&A were damned by players before the suspension for not calling it earlier and damned by the ones who finished afterwards and could trace no discernible difference in the wind speed.

McIlroy, therefore, was just the most spectacular victim of the contrasting fortunes of links golf. On Thursday morning his half of the field had caught the break of their lives, playing in flat calm, and those who took advantage spent the afternoon sniggering over their good fortune. Here the unlucky half got their own back. True, yesterday morning - when they played - was no picnic, with heavy showers making life unpleasant. But every player would take heavy rain any day over the hoolie that blew in after lunch. With players not allowed to leave the course during the delay, it meant those like McIlroy and Tiger Woods spent over seven hours completing their rounds.

Not for nothing has Woods won 14 majors. Some players thrive when there are birdies to be had all over the course. But it is the greats of the game who thrive in tempestuous conditions such as these. Towards the finish it looked as if even Tiger, however, the most fearsome competitor of all, was spoiling a notable day's work by dropping shots. Others were dropping simply through exhaustion. At the end, however, there was one mighty moment for the decent smattering of people who stayed until 9.45pm to witness it, as he drove the 18th green to set up a two-putt birdie.

Poor McIlroy. Smacking gum furiously, he began in the same confident vein as the day before, registering three fine pars to begin. Then came the suspension; then came the unravelling. When play resumed, he just happened to be standing over an approach shot to the fourth, one of the most difficult holes, and he ended up with a bogey-five, his first dropped shot of the championship. At the fifth, a par five reachable in two, the Ulsterman failed to get the birdie on offer and then at the sixth, a pushed drive into some of the heaviest rough on the course led to another bogey.

At the seventh more trouble led to his fourth five in a row. At the short eighth, he had to hole from three feet to stop registering another five, but it was yet another bogey. When he missed a short birdie-putt at the ninth, it meant the man who played the back nine in 30 shots on Thursday had needed 40 to play the front nine a day later. On the agony went. 'I let it all get away from me,' he confessed.


May 7, 2010

Green shoots of recovery for Tiger

Posted on 07/05/2010

Tiger Woods made a shaky start to the Players Championship, crashing his first tee shot into the trees, but he recovered to put himself in contention and Derek Lawrenson in the Mail feels there were signs of a revival for the world No. 1.

Not quite normal service from Tiger Woods at the Players Championship, but normal enough to suggest it won't be too long before those hysterics predicting his best days are behind him look rather silly.

Amazing what some people will read into one bad performance. Seven days on from the worst tournament of his career, Woods showed once again his powers of recovery with an opening round of 70 at Sawgrass.

Harry is Mr Motivator

Harry Redknapp is still basking in the glory of taking Tottenham into the Champions League and the media are still gushing about his efforts. The Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter believes Redknapp’s man-management skills played a huge part in Spurs’ surge.

In pride of place on the wall of Harry Redknapp's old office at West Ham United was a wonderful picture of Bobby Moore in all his elegant, ball-playing pomp. Redknapp was a soulmate and club-mate and also a great admirer because of Moore's central role in England's 1966 World Cup triumph.

Redknapp has always waved the flag of St George, whether in releasing players for national service during his time at West Ham, Portsmouth, Southampton and now Tottenham or in nurturing lion cubs like Frank Lampard, Joe Cole
and Rio Ferdinand at Upton Park.

Even now, aged 63, Redknapp is still playing patriot games by making good English players better. England's plane to South Africa could resemble Noah's Ark, with Spurs players going in two by two, a pair from each department: defenders Michael Dawson and Ledley King, midfielders Tom Huddlestone and Aaron Lennon, strikers Peter Crouch and Jermain Defoe.

Redknapp does the fundamentals of his job so well, encouraging players to sharpen technique, filling them with belief and creating a stage for them to express themselves.

Dawson, Lennon and Defoe have particularly improved under Redknapp, the engaging alchemist of White Hart Lane.

People feel good after even a minute in Redknapp's company. His popularity was highlighted after Wednesday's seismic win over Manchester City, when another Englishman, David Bentley, poured an ice-water bucket over him, doubtless chilling Redknapp to the bare bones.

Not only are Spurs players well managed, they are also well coached. Redknapp has gathered a notable brain trust, including four Englishmen in Kevin Bond, Clive Allen, Les Ferdinand and Tim Sherwood, plus the Scot Joe Jordan, adding to Tottenham's home-grown feel.

Some managers are cautious about talking up their players for England. Not Redknapp. He shouts their qualities from the rooftops.

May 4, 2010

McIlroy signals start of post-Woods era

Posted on 04/05/2010

Great players sense the big occasion. They put every ounce of effort into creating it, but when the moment arrives, they make sure they leave a mark so memorable that it has mere mortals discussing it down the local pub. Rory McIlroy provided one such moment at Quail Hollow, and the Daily Mail's Derek Lawrenson believes it signalled the start of a new era in golf...

Golf historians, pick up your pens and start a most thrilling debate. Following a seismic series of events, have we just witnessed the most epochal 24 hours in the history of the game? It all began on Sunday morning, UK time, with 18-year-old Ryo Ishikawa shooting 58 - yes, 58 - to win his fourth event on the Japan Tour; continued on Sunday night with Rory McIlroy shooting 62 - yes, 62 - to beat Masters champion Phil Mickelson and win for the first time in America; before ending Monday morning with Italian Matteo Manassero signing on the dotted line to join the professional ranks at the age of only 17.

At Augusta last month many good judges were predicting that Manassero, the youngest player ever to compete in the Masters and who made the halfway cut, would prove a more prolific winner than the other two. But where does that verdict stand now after Ishikawa's dismantling of a tricky layout in Japan that had McIlroy, who has played the course, shaking his head in admiration? Or after the Ulsterman's stunning demolition of a class field in North Carolina?

Who knows who will win the most? But one thing's for sure: at this, the dawning of a new era, the man in front is McIlroy.

Continue reading "McIlroy signals start of post-Woods era"

April 14, 2010

The reason why the public love Mickelson

Posted on 14/04/2010

It had to take something a bit special to knock Tiger Woods off the headlines at the Masters; Phil Mickelson provided it. Short of form coming into the tournament and understandably distracted by his wife’s and mother’s battles with cancer, he produced some thrilling golf to win the tournament for the third time. And, according to Matthew Syed in the Times, his go-for-broke shot on the 13th from a seemingly impossible position highlighted exactly why he is so adored by the public.

Jack Nicklaus once said that the art of winning tournament golf is to understand when to defend as well as when to attack. It is a strategic insight with which most of us would agree, particularly in the context of Augusta National, a course where mistakes tend to extract penal consequences.

But in the pine needles at the side of the 13th fairway on Sunday, Phil Mickelson, a mild-mannered, gentle, some might almost say anaemic character, offered us a rather different philosophical proposition.

Faced with an aperture only a few feet in width between two encroaching trees, and with the potential for catastrophe staring him squarely in the face, the American went for broke.

It was a 200-yard carry over Rae’s Creek, with the pin just a few paces on to the green — the kind of shot that would require scrupulous accuracy even with an obstacle-free trajectory and a perfect lie. In the circumstances, the shot seemed not merely brash but insane. Even when he took his six-iron from his bag, many of us assumed that he was laying up with a low scuttler rather than risking his chance of winning a third Masters by tilting for the green.

It was a shot selection that invited not merely dissent but ridicule. The headlines would have written themselves. Mickelson led by a shot, he had time on his side, the coming holes suited his game, he might still have made his birdie by laying up and Rae’s Creek was snaking its way across the trajectory of his ambitions. Everything spoke against the decision he made.

But it is for moments such as this that golf, and sport, have meaning. In the instant he struck the ball, the 2010 Masters, which had already provided thrills and spills aplenty, was elevated into one of the great sporting events of recent times.

It was not just the sweetness of the shot, the soft landing of the ball just inches from the edge of the water and its gentle passage to within a few feet of the hole; it was, even more so, the thrilling audacity of its contemplation.

Mickelson is adored by the American public not simply because he is a decent chap with a nice demeanour, but because he has an affinity with boldness and adventure no less profound than that of Ballesteros, Arnold Palmer and the other swashbuckling legends who illuminated the history of golf.

It is because, when playing shots such as those from the pine needles on the 13th hole at Augusta, he provides a glimpse of the way life could be if we dared to live it beyond the cocoon of safety and certainty.

Has Tiger really changed?

Sorry, we couldn’t keep Tiger out of the headlines. Daily Mirror scribe Oliver Holt was left with a nasty taste in his mouth following Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf at the Masters.

You want my best guess on Tiger now that he's got a few days of golf out of the way? He's a big game bounty hunter on the booty trail again, bigging it up at the MGM Grand in Vegas with MJ and Charles.

He's tipping 16 per cent at the local Granola Cafe in Isleworth because he figures that will bust all the rumours about him being a 15 per cent tightwad.

He's still a little irritated that Phil Mickelson, of all people, stole his spotlight on Sunday by winning another Green Jacket.

He's still thinking about Phil giving his wife a hug at the back of the 18th green. The emotion looked real but Tiger's sure it wasn't. He calls up his caddie, Steve Williams, and they have a good laugh about how Phil is still such an idiot.

He's heard Phil always tips $50, even at Waffle House. He's guessing that is why people are always writing nice things about him. He's read that Phil took his daughter to the doctor at Augusta on the eve of the final round after she'd broken her wrist rollerskating. He's read that Phil took his kids to a local coffee shop every morning during the tournament for breakfast and a game of chess. He's thinking Phil must have tipped pretty good to get those stories decent space.

He knows it's only a matter of time until he reels Phil back in anyway. He'll put him in his place at the US Open at Pebble Beach in June.

He'll have discarded all the garbage about being a changed man by then. He hasn't changed at all. Change is for wimps.

He's the best and he makes the most. That's all that matters.

April 13, 2010

Mickelsons provide Augusta magic

Posted on 13/04/2010

After Phil Mickelson won his Masters title on Sunday evening, Richard Williams in the Guardian pays tribute to a devout family man - quite in contrast to Tiger Woods, who dominated headlines prior to the start of the tournament. Mickelson, whose wife and mother both have breast cancer, triumphed despite difficult personal circumstances.

As the round approached its climax, Amy Mickelson and her mother in law, Mary, prepared to leave for the course. They arrived in time to see Phil make the final par with which he fended off Lee Westwood's challenge, and the hug that Phil and Amy shared by the side of the 18th green in the last rays of the day's sunlight will live a lot longer in the memory than the 27 seconds it took to complete.

Continue reading "Mickelsons provide Augusta magic"

April 11, 2010

Westwood a worthy winner

Posted on 11/04/2010

As Lee Westwood nears his first Major title - and the first won by an Englishman since 1996 - many column inches have been dedicated to the quality of the strokeplay he has displayed at The Masters. David Walsh, writing in the Sunday Times, agrees with this assessment - but also suggests that Westwood would be a worthy winner for another reason. Westwood, writes Walsh, has done tremendously to turn his career around in the past few years:

If there’s one reason Westwood deserves to be on the list of major winners, it is because it had seemed that for almost a decade he would be one of the game’s underachievers. A serial winner in the years after he first turned professional, he rose to No 4 in the world rankings at the age of 26. Perhaps it all came too easily because as quickly as the wins and impressive world ranking came, they disappeared.

Continue reading "Westwood a worthy winner"

April 10, 2010

Poulter's cooking up a storm

Posted on 10/04/2010

Ian Poulter has earned more headlines for his crazy dress sense than his golf over the years, but there is a different look to the Briton at Augusta, a look that may just lead to a new jacket being added to his wardrobe writes Oliver Brown in the Telegraph...

Ian Poulter might be a fully paid-up member of American golf's expat elite, but he toasted his inspired first round of 68 at the Masters with a meal that was quintessentially English and followed that with another four-under-par score.

“Just sat down for my dinner, steak and ale pie, couple of spuds, get in there,” he wrote on a Twitter page that has acquired almost a million followers. You can take the boy out of Stevenage...

But then this fast-talking, curry-loving Arsenal supporter has always had a touch of the 'cor blimeys’ about him, whatever his peculiar line in pink clothing suggests. Shortly after he propelled himself into the American consciousness by winning this year’s World Matchplay in Arizona, he was portrayed by the CBS sports network as “the cockney cockatiel”.

Poulter is feted here for the boldness and brashness of his self-exposure. Indeed, sometimes it seems all you have to do in this country to be passed off as an endearing Brit is to feign a few Estuary glottal stops and don a pair of Union Jack trousers. Poulter can assume whatever affectations he likes, though, if he has the game to lead the Masters.

Continue reading "Poulter's cooking up a storm"

April 9, 2010

Unfortunately, nothing has changed with Woods

Posted on 09/04/2010

So Tiger Woods breezed back into the public eye on Thursday, hit a couple of killer shots, and everything is forgiven. As Oliver Holt points out in the Daily Mirror, Woods' apparent show of remorse appears to have disappeared rather quickly, other than a rather ill-advised Nike advert...

The world got its best golfer back yesterday. Not a broken man. Not someone so tortured by his demons he could not compete. Not a great player suddenly transformed into an ordinary guy who might struggle to make the cut. But a man who looked like he had never been away. A man who looked as though he will reclaim his greatness with relative ease.

A man who has lost none of his charisma and none of his showmanship. He even chucked his club when he flunked an approach shot on the 14th. So much for his new respect for the game.
The suspicion is that for all his expressions of vulnerability and atonement, Woods has not really changed at all. He's served a sentence. And now it's over.

Forget Tiger Woods the philanderer, forget the guy who's so desperate to please his sponsors he will even let them use his dead father for an advertisement.

Continue reading "Unfortunately, nothing has changed with Woods"

April 6, 2010

A masterclass in evasion

Posted on 06/04/2010

It had to be about Tiger Woods, following his first appearance before the press since. Well, since. There was the odd probing question, he did admit using controversial doctor Tony Galea, but the Times’ John Hopkins felt it was the world No. 1 still controlling things.

How should we view Tiger Woods after his press conference in Augusta yesterday? With disappointment and with dissatisfaction. Although some questions were answered, too many were left unanswered. This was a frothy, light-as-air souffle when one had been hoping for something more substantial.

Is it too much to expect that if Woods was prepared to be questioned, then we had a right to expect him to answer those questions. And although some of his answers were germane to the question he had been asked, many were not. Overall, it was a masterclass in evasion and avoidance, of speaking without saying much, of being elliptical, of answering questions but often not the questions he was asked.

We know little more this morning than we did yesterday morning about certain important issues. Why, for instance, did Woods become involved with a Canadian doctor who is known to administer human growth hormone and is under investigation by the police?

Another example. Many of those who listened to his stumbling mea culpa in Jacksonville in February got a clear impression then that he would be away from golf for a long time. Yet only eight days later he had returned from his therapy clinic and was hitting balls, raising the question of why Woods had spoken in the week of the Accenture Match Play Championship when he could have waited another ten days.

Woods was asked about this apparent contradiction and again he gave an answer that barely dealt with the question. “When I gave my speech in February, I had no intentions of playing golf in the near future at all,” he said. “I just had barely started practising two days prior to that. That was the first time I hit balls. And then I started hitting more balls and more balls and more balls and I started getting the itch again to start playing again. . .”

So his long-term commitment to staying away from golf, to sorting out his marriage, his family, his friends, that all went out of the window because he “started getting the itch again”. That is what we are left to conclude from this rambling answer.

To give credit where it is due, while the conference was ended after only 35 minutes, which was rather short, there was no attempt to censor the questions. Woods looked relaxed and composed, much more like the Tiger Woods of old and not at all like the heavily directed, nervous individual who had appeared in front of a hand-picked, sympathetic audience in Florida two months ago.

Yet this is what creates a sense of dissatisfaction. Woods answered nearly fifty questions and he made sure he looked his questioners in the eye when he did so. He declined to say what he was in therapy for and he explained that Elin, his wife, and their children will not be joining him at Augusta.

But did he really convince us that he was genuine in his contrition? Not really. Did he address the key issues? Not really. Does he think that he has played the most difficult shot of this Masters week and that from now on there will be a a lot of players saying, “Welcome back, Tiger”. Probably.

Bedser a giant of the game

Sir Alex Bedser passed away at the weekend at the age of 91 and he was a true giant of the game. Derek Pringle pens a fitting tribute in the Telegraph.

Few bowlers ever get to be knights of the realm and as Sir Alec Bedser used to point out, not always in jest, he was the first since Sir Francis Drake. The honour was thoroughly deserved, not just for his selfless deeds as a bowler for Surrey and England but for the lifelong loyalty to a game he cherished deeply.

In a sporting era where materialistic rewards were few, his playing career was the very epitome of service, a foreign word to most modern players. His 236 Test wickets were the most ever taken by the time he played the last of his 51 Tests in 1955. His total would have been even greater but for the Second World War denying him the opportunity to take advantage of his physical prime.

big man, 15st and 6ft 3in, his bowling was based on rhythm and economy, being brisk rather than quick. Inswingers and a nagging accuracy were his main weapons, though their effectiveness increased once he learned to bowl the leg-cutter by wrapping his enormous fingers around the seam. It was a leg-cutter that famously dismissed that other cricketing knight, Sir Don Bradman, for a duck at Adelaide in 1947. Bradman, who remained a lifelong friend, maintained it was the best ball that ever got him out.

Set your loved one free

Steven Gerrard looked bewildered when Liverpool took Fernando Torres off against Birmingham with the game still in the balance and Ian Wright, writing in his column in the Sun, feels it was the moment that suggested the time had come for him to move on.

It was the moment that may have broken the camel's back as far as Steven Gerrard's Liverpool love affair is concerned. The look of dismay on the skipper's face when Rafa Benitez inexplicably substituted Fernando Torres with 25 minutes to go in Sunday's 1-1 draw at Birmingham said it all.

For the first time since he broke into the first team 11½ years ago, Stevie G looked like he wants out of Liverpool. And, with the way things are at Anfield right now, who could blame him?

With Premier League and Champions League hopes having long disappeared, the consolation prizes of fourth place in the table and the Europa League are now even touch and go.

It appears the only certainties on the horizon at Liverpool this year are more in-fighting and uncertainty.

Gerrard deserves better. Much better. He turns 30 at the end of next month. It's a milestone that is bound to make him take a long, hard look at himself and his career.

It would be totally understandable if he came to the conclusion that he needs a new club. I know the Kop will be up in arms at this view, as they were when their inspirational captain came close to joining Chelsea in 2004.

Gerrard turned down a reported £20million switch to join Jose Mourinho and it proved the right decision. He led Liverpool to a Champions League triumph over Milan 12 months later, an incredible FA Cup final win over West Ham a year after that before another Champions League final appearance in 2007. But things are totally different this time. Gerrard's body language as he trudged off at St Andrew's suggested he needs a new challenge and the Koppites should respect that.

As the old saying goes, if you love somebody set them free. That is how Liverpool fans should be with Gerrard.

April 5, 2010

The questions Tiger Woods should answer

Posted on 05/04/2010

Tiger Woods is on the brink of a return to competitive golf, but ahead of his opening shot at the Masters he must face the press on Monday. It is believed that there will be a scrum to gain attendance and journalists are likely to be limited to one question. It remains to be seen if the questions will be vetted, but Mark Reason in the Daily Telegraph has put down on paper the questions that need to be answered.

1 You have repeatedly reacted angrily to suggestions of domestic violence. Why then did you not talk to police at the time of the accident and why was Elin not allowed to ride to the hospital with you? If she didn’t hit you, what exactly happened? And no, it’s not in the police report.

2 It has been reported recently that you paid Rachel Uchitel $10 million for her silence. Have you paid Uchitel or any other woman money to keep quiet?

3 A hospital chart indicated you had taken an “overdose”. In the months before the incident had you been taking large quantities of Vicodin, Ambien or any other painkiller or sleeping draught? Were you addicted to pills?

4 Although there are plenty of doctors in Florida who could have administered the blood-spinning treatment allegedly used in your recovery from knee surgery, you chose to use Tony Galea. Why employ a Canadian who is being investigated for drug practices that are illegal in the United States?

5 Last year your behaviour on the golf course was criticised by greats of the game like Tom Watson and Peter Thomson. Do you plan to start signing more autographs and to stop swearing, spitting and throwing golf clubs? In short, do you plan to be more like Phil Mickelson?

6 You have constantly denied that your inner circle knew anything about your sexual activities, but in recent days a couple of women have made allegations that you used a friend to arrange trysts and that Mark Steinberg, your agent, was involved in a cover-up. Do you continue to deny their involvement?

7 Why did you say six weeks ago: “I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don’t know when that day will be – I don’t rule out that it will be this year.” It gave the impression that your return was not imminent. Why did you continue to deceive your fans?

8 In view of everything that has happened why is your inner circle still intact? Steve Williams was justly critical of you – will he keep his job? Is Steinberg fireproof? How will Elin believe you have changed if all the old cronies stay in place? Are there just too many skeletons to fire people?

9 What would be an achievement this week? You say that you never play in a tournament that you don’t expect to win. Do you expect to win at Augusta or is a top 20 a good performance? Can you win a major this season? Can you catch Jack Nicklaus’s record?

10 If you play in the Ryder Cup in October you are bound to be heckled. It has never been your favourite event, so do you have any ambition to play in this year’s Ryder Cup?

March 23, 2010

The eyes of a Tiger tell the story

Posted on 23/03/2010

Tiger Woods gave his first interviews since the allegations of his affairs were made public, with ESPN one of the broadcasters given access to the world No. 1. Woods remained in his comfort zone during the questioning, but Derek Lawrenson in the Mail feels the player’s eyes were a giveaway that he is still deeply troubled.

Five minutes is how long you get to look for a lost ball. Or how long you have got to turn up following your tee-time before you are disqualified. Now, that brief time span has acquired a further significance in the Royal and Ancient game.

Five minutes is how long Tiger Woods deigned for questions on Sunday night, in his first interviews since Thanksgiving became anything but. As one acerbic American commentator put it, five hours would have been more like it.

There again, watching Woods mumble a few thoughts to the Golf Channel and ESPN in turn, five minutes was about as long as most people would have been able to stomach.

There is not much chance of Woods being a poster boy for rehab, is there? Watching him play humble, falling back at every opportunity on the religious card or the stock rehab cliches like ‘stripping away denial’ and ‘living a lie’ made you almost long for the non-communicative womaniser.

Anyone else worried about Woods’s state of mind?

I think I’ve attended every significant event in his professional life since he joined the paid ranks in 1996. They say the eyes are the windows on the soul and the eyes of the Tiger have always been brimful with excitement at another triumph, or raging with fury at another perceived slight. Now they look lifeless, and it is horrible to see.

Messi is magic

You probably know it already, but that Lionel Messi fella is pretty good. A second hat-trick inside a week for Barcelona had the normally effusive Spanish press lost for words, as Sid Lowe in the Guardian reveals.

Barcelona's talisman is so sensationally good at the moment that comparisons with football's greatest players are wholly justified.

It's not big and it's not clever but sometimes swearing is the only thing that will do. Sometimes you've used up every other word and nothing else quite hits the spot. You've rummaged round the back of the sofa, rifled through the drawers, turned out your pockets and still come up empty. Pep Guardiola insisted that he was clean out of adjectives and frankly so was everyone else. Spain was suffering a severe shortage of superlatives.

The Catalan newspaper Sport invited readers to send in headlines for what they had just witnessed and there were plenty of super, sensational and sublimes, some magic, magnificent and marvellouses, wows and wonderfuls, plus deities by the dozen, and even a Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, but still there was no way to really do it justice. No polite way anyway. Just wide eyes, a wider mouth and a simple: holy shit!

Civil Wor

You just can’t seem to keep some clubs out of the headlines. Newcastle had been making serene progress towards promotion, but the papers are filled with allegations of a bust-up between Steven Taylor and Andy Carroll that has left Taylor with a broken jaw and Carroll a hand injury. There has been no word from the club but if true it would not need a rocket scientist to work out what happened.

March 17, 2010

Woods hijacks the Masters

Posted on 17/03/2010

After Tiger Woods announced yesterday that he would return to competitive golf at the Masters in April, thereby ending months of speculation, Lawrence Donegan in the Guardian today accuses the world No. 1 of "putting his own narrow interest above those of his fellow competitors" by choosing to return at Augusta, in an easier environment for him to control:

Tiger Woods, the man who just cannot stop taking, has done it again, announcing today that he will make his comeback to golf at next month's Masters and, as he did so, a tournament famous for its history and drama became one known for the height of its security fences and the selectivity of its media arrangements.

Continue reading "Woods hijacks the Masters"

February 20, 2010

Woods launches Brand Tiger

Posted on 20/02/2010

So, Tiger Woods paused, spoke, paused, spoke some more, and then hugged his mum in a touching public statement on Friday, which was so uncharacteristically unnatural that viewers momentarily forget the God-given grace by which the world No. 1 plays on a golf course. Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail applauds Woods for Friday’s appearance, but only for the relaunch of what he calls Brand Tiger...

And still we wait to hear from Tiger Woods. Maybe we never will. The thoughts of Brand Tiger we know. He is sorry. We get that. He was selfish, he was irresponsible, he was foolish. Yes, we understand. He let down his wife, his children, his fans, his friends, his family, his business partners. Oh, those poor business partners. Won't nobody think of the business partners?

At the end, he held his old mum tight and moved along the specially selected front row as if receiving condolences at a funeral. For a moment, it was possible to forget that this was, in fact, a happy occasion. Maybe they should have made it clearer with a giant banner that could have fallen in front of the solemn blue drapes at the conclusion.

'COMING SOON: TIGER WOODS - a new TIGER WOODS will be opening here in 2010.'

That was, after all, what this production was really about. Brand Tiger is gearing up to make money again. He might not be ready to hit a golf ball in public yet but he will be primed to get those cash registers ringing soon. The shuffling noise you hear is the sound of executives climbing back in from the window ledges at Nike headquarters.

Continue reading "Woods launches Brand Tiger"

January 23, 2010

Westwood's not in the groove

Posted on 23/01/2010

westwood440.jpg

Lee Westwood crashed out of the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship thanks to a shocking round of 78 in the second round. Barely a couple of months ago he had demolished a top-class field to win the Race to Dubai. In the intervening period the pins have been moved, so to speak, as the rulemakers deemed the old U-shaped grooves - relatively wide and with sharp edges - were giving the players too much spin and outlawed them for professionals. Top players are likely to be able to adapt, but it seems Westwood has taken a little longer than anticipated – writes Peter Dixon in the Times

At the Dubai World Championship at the end of November, Lee Westwood demolished a stellar field with a display so good that it took the breath away. He knew that victory would bring him the inaugural Race to Dubai and he had no intention of playing second fiddle to anybody — and that included his main rival for the title, a young genius by the name of Rory McIlroy.

So when Rick Kulacz, a virtual unknown from Australia, moved to the top of the leaderboard yesterday at the Abu Dhabi Championship at the same time that Westwood was packing his bags after missing the cut, it was inevitable that questions would be asked. In particular, what had happened in the intervening weeks?

Westwood admitted that he was rusty after taking a six-week break from the game but had other thoughts on his mind. Namely that he had become the inadvertent victim of a change in the rules.

The rule in question has been exercising the minds of players and equipment suppliers for much of the past year. With fears that clubs were allowing players to generate too much spin, and thus control, from out of the rough, the R&A and the USGA, the game’s rules makers, decided that grooves on the clubs needed to be altered.

The penalty for missing fairways, it was argued, had been neutralised, allowing the long hitters an unfair advantage over shorter hitting, more accurate players. So from January 1, the old U-shaped grooves — relatively wide and with sharp edges — were outlawed for professionals, to be replaced by narrower grooves with rounded edges giving less bite.

While the vast majority of the leading players will be able to adjust to the changes pretty quickly, where Westwood came unstuck was that he had to change all the clubs in his bag and had given himself too little time to familiarise himself with them.

Many of his rivals, Ian Poulter among them, had already been using “conforming” irons towards the end of the year, the exception being their most lofted clubs, the sand irons and lob wedges.

Westwood, who followed up his first round of 69 with one of 78, ended the day on three over par, 15 shots behind Kulacz and 14 adrift of Sergio García, Shane Lowry and Peter Hanson. With four bogeys in the first four holes, he got off to the worst start imaginable and could not get back on track. He reached the turn in 40 and came home in 38. This was not the player we had seen a few weeks earlier.

© ESPN EMEA Ltd