Martin Dempster: End of the Tiger Woods era

Rory McIlroy with the WGC-Cadillac Match Play trophy after his victory at TPC Harding Park. Picture: Getty
Rory McIlroy with the WGC-Cadillac Match Play trophy after his victory at TPC Harding Park. Picture: Getty
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AS RORY McIlroy continues to let his clubs do the talking – what a collection of titles he currently holds after winning the WGC-Cadillac Match Play – Tiger Woods just can’t seem to let anyone else enjoy the golfing spotlight without trying to get his oar in.

It was bad enough that the American chose the opening day of the event in San Francisco to announce his “busy summer” schedule, an announcement obviously timed to grab the headlines when Woods couldn’t do so with a performance due the fact he didn’t qualify on this occasion for a tournament he’d won three times.

After dominating for so long, Tiger is finding it tough to be yesterday’s man

But to then come out on Sunday with a statement confirming that he’d split up with Lindsey Vonn, the Olympic skier, proved once and for all that Woods is one of those horrible “look-at-me” individuals that can’t seem to swallow the thought of anyone else being in the limelight.

As we feared, it was asking too much for Woods to confirm that he had, in fact, turned over a new leaf. That the smiling Tiger, who was hugging here, there and everywhere on the practice area at Augusta National last month, was the one that we’d be seeing from now on.

Put simply, what we saw at The Masters was a show and, at the time, lots of people fell hook, line and sinker for it.

What was Vonn doing their if their relationship was coming to an end? After all, it’s not as though that has fallen apart in the last few weeks. The fact it has is really no surprise in the end because you can just imagine that the perfect life for Woods is a scenario where only one ego exists.

After dominating his sport for so long, there’s no doubt that Tiger is finding it tough to be yesterday’s man, having been left in the shadows by the brilliant 12-month spell McIlroy has enjoyed since he also ended a relationship with the tennis player, Caroline Wozniacki.

Add in Jordan Spieth’s arrival on the scene and the door is edging towards being closed on the Woods’ era.

He’ll hate that prospect and, hopefully, it will drive him on, starting at this week’s Players’ Championship at TPC Sawgrass and continuing through to the Open Championship at St Andrews in July.

Where would be better than the Old Course for the game to see Woods and McIlroy going head-to-head for the first time in a major?

What particularly saddens me about Woods coming out with announcements during such a big event is that he, of all people, should be recognising what an outstanding talent McIlroy is, not trying to steal his thunder as he clearly did with part two because that particular news emerged as the world No 1 was on his way to beating Gary Woodland by 4&2 in the final at TPC Harding Park.

The success means that McIlroy, who turned 26 yesterday, currently holds two majors, two WGCs and two European Tour titles, including its flagship BMW PGA Championship. Only Woods among the current top players knows the skill, tenacity and mental fortitude it takes to enjoy that level of success in a 12-month period.

“This is the start of a nice little run of golf for me,” admitted McIlroy, who’d finished birdie-eagle in his semi-final against Jim Furyk before enjoying a more straightforward victory against Woodland. “I wanted to increase my lead in the world rankings, which I have done after this win.”

It was the perfect response to seeing Spieth become Masters champion and emerge as his main challenger as the game’s top dog.

“It’s always nice to have people pushing you and I feel that he’s one of the guys doing that right now,” he added.

Would McIlroy still have come out on top under the old format instead of the new round-robin one in use on this occasion?

Yes, because he won seven games out of seven and, in many of them, he showed the dogged determination that is vital to turning ties around in head-to-head combat.

“Match-play is a format I have always enjoyed and feel it is a format that I do well in, as I’ve shown in this tournament once before [when reaching the 2012 final],” he said.

“I felt like this new format would give me a better chance to make it through to the latter stages and I played some great golf to get the job done.

“As a mental test, I don’t think we face anything tougher than this.”

A ‘hidden gem’ and a marvellous test of golf

IT Won’t feature Rory McIlroy, unfortunately, but the next head-to-head tournament in professional golf, the Saltire Energy Paul Lawrie Match Play, promises to be a tasty affair at Murcar Links later in the year.

We often hear people talking about “hidden gems” when it comes to Scottish golf courses and the venue chosen by Lawrie, the host, for this new European Tour event is certainly one.

I may be doing it a slight injustice in describing it in such a way because it has staged plenty of top events over the years, including the Scottish Challenge, Northern Open and Scottish Boys. However, it was “hidden” as far as this correspondent was concerned, at least in terms of playing it, until last week and what a delightful first-time treat it proved to be.

How refreshing it was to play a course like Murcar Links, where the onus is strategy rather than being designed purely to provide a test for the big hitters who tend to dominate the modern game.

I’m not saying that one such player won’t come out on top there in early August as there are some short par-4s that they may well be able to exploit.

In trying to do so, though, there will be a risk-and-reward element involved and that is exactly what you need to provide exciting match-play golf.

I’m guessing that 63 European Tour players – I’m not including Lawrie as he knows it already – will enjoy one of the best weeks of the season at the Aberdeen venue, both in terms of the format and the marvellous test of golf awaiting them there.