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Tom English: Temptation to give McIlroy gentle slap

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Rory McIlroy. Picture: Ian Rutherford

VIOLENCE never solves anything, but there was a temptation to jump on a plane to Shanghai last week and give Rory McIlroy a gentle slap.

An extreme measure, for sure. But in order to get him to snap out of his unquestioning love-in with Tiger Woods then it would have been worth the trouble.

In the business of Woods versus Brandel Chamblee, golf analyst and – shock, horror – Tiger critic, McIlroy weighed in behind Woods and, for a moment, morphed into a bully’s accomplice, calling out Chamblee for having the temerity to call out Tiger for his multiple rule infractions this year. Chamblee, writing for golf.com, had said that Woods had been cavalier with the rules in four separate incidents, a statement that only a Tiger sycophant could argue with.

How disappointing that the Woods cheerleader turned out to be McIlroy. He questioned Chamblee’s “authority” to say “anything like that” about his pal. Then this: “People wouldn’t know who Brandel Chamblee was if it wasn’t for Tiger Woods.”

At that point, you’d have to administer the slap.

Is Rory saying that anybody with reservations about Woods’ on-course behaviour this year should hush their noise because, well, he made us all and we should be eternally grateful? Is that it? Is every golf analyst to turn a blind eye because, hey, they’d be irrelevant without him? Such a lot of nonsense from McIlroy. It’s not less scrutiny that Woods needs. Quite obviously, it is more.

McIlroy hasn’t just charmed everybody with the quality of his golf these past years, it’s the warmth of his personality that has appealed just as much, the honesty of his chat, the willingness to stand before a crowd of journalists at Muirfield last summer and not fob them off with garbage about “process” and “progress” and “it is what it is”, whatever that is. No, McIlroy was in a hole and everybody could see it and he could see that everybody could see it so he didn’t bulls*** like some would have in his position. He admitted that his game was a mess and that his mind had turned to marshmallow. In giving his “braindead” speech you worried about his game but admired him for having the maturity to talk about it in the way he did.

Maybe Rory has spending too much time with Woods and Mark Steinberg, his manager.

Chamblee didn’t directly say that Woods had cheated, but he implied it. He should have left it at “cavalier”, but he didn’t. He has admitted he went too far. He has said that beyond the turn of the year he will not write for golf.com again, as a kind of self-censure measure. Sort of.

In the website piece he told a story from his own college days when he cheated on an exam and then gave Woods an F grade, which rather hammered home the point. Soon enough, Woods mobilised his attack through his manager, Steinberg.

“Steiny” reached for the thesaurus and searched for as many variations on the word ‘disgusting’ as he could possibly find. So much moralising from a man who last year was arrested for drunk driving. In one of the quotes of 2012 – or any other year for that matter – arresting Sergeant Dave Fisher pointed out that Steinberg had told him who he was – yes, THE Mark Steinberg – but that it didn’t matter a damn. “He was intoxicated,” said Fisher, before adding the delicious Tigeresque pay-off: “It is what it is.”

If you’re going to search Google for Woods’ myriad rules violations in the past year then you better know precisely which one you’re looking for, because there’s quite a choice.

“Tiger takes a bad drop.”

“Tiger engulfed in illegal drop controversy.”

“Another dodgy drop by Tiger Woods.”

“Woods punished again.”

To recap: Woods has won five titles this year, which is almost as many times as he has come under the microscope for incidents that a player of his experience should never have been involved in. For all his career to date, all those majors and all that greatness, Woods has never been involved in a controversial incident involving the rules of golf. If it was written in the rules of golf that rudeness, swearing, spitting and club-flinging was punishable by loss of strokes, then Woods would have been done every other week – as would his ex-caddie, Steve Williams, who, under Tiger’s command, was to good manners what a bull is to a china shop. But such things are not written down, so Woods has had no penalty against him for rule breaking. Until this year when four came in a flurry.

The most recent was at the BMW Championship in Chicago in September when he was retrospectively punished two shots after television evidence showed that his ball moved as Woods dealt with some foliage around and about it. The offence was obvious. It is so hard in golf to pin down a rules infraction but this was as clear-cut as they came. Not that the bold Tiger accepted what the rest of the world could clearly see. He said the ball had oscillated. Trying to get an admission of guilt from Woods is like getting blood from a stone. The last time somebody succeeded it was his ex-wife and she only got the confession with the benefit of a nine-iron in her hand.

Back in April, there was Augusta and his two-shot penalty for an incorrect drop after his ball found water on the 15th hole. Woods could have done his image a whole pile of good by withdrawing from the Masters after his error was uncovered, but he didn’t. Maybe the Masters grandees didn’t want him to. Maybe TV executives broke out in a cold sweat at the thought of no Tiger at the weekend, but he should have walked regardless.

In Abu Dhabi there was another dodgy drop in the second round and another two-stroke penalty with the piece-de-resistance being the Players championship in May when Woods drove into the water off the 14th tee at Sawgrass and then dropped his ball on a line of entry that nobody else saw but him. Even now, you look at where Woods dropped his ball and you gasp at the audacity of it. Others found water on that same hole during the week and they all dropped a veritable mile behind where Woods played from. This is the essential problem. Woods said his playing partner cleared the drop. Once you get the thumbs-up from your partner you have a story to tell when somebody questions you later. Casey Wittenberg was the partner in question. When Tiger Woods asks Wittenberg if his drop was good then what is Wittenberg going to say? He’s going to spare himself a world of grief and say ‘You’re good, Tiger’. He’s not going to propel himself into a controversy by challenging Woods because everybody knows what happens when you challenge Woods. You end up as roadkill.

Woods wanted a retraction but, ultimately, what he wanted was revenge. All of a sudden this story became about Chamblee backtracking – possibly under the threat of legal action and career damage – and less about the offences that caused the comments in the first place. Woods, it is suggested, wanted Chamblee sacked from the Golf Channel, even though the analyst’s wounding words had nothing to do with the Golf Channel. Getting Chamblee off television, where he has been a regular critic of Woods, would have been a neat result, a reminder to all that you go after the golfer at your peril, that the next time you feel like commenting on something he has done on the golf course then you better make sure it’s a hymn to his genius rather than a lament for his rule-breaking and refusal to accept that he has done anything wrong.

Chamblee will keep his job at Golf Channel, you would hope. And it will serve the game well if he and his employers also keep their nerve.

 

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