A Tale of Two Tigers
By Conor Nagle under European PGA Tour

Woods was eclipsed by his playing partner during the first round.

A reliable long game may be the key to consistent scoring, but explosiveness – the enigmatic key to outpacing a competitive field – hinges on one’s performance on and around the putting surface.

Former World Number One Tiger Woods (70) was consistency incarnate during the first round of the Abu Dhabi Championship – he hit an incredible 17 greens in regulation – but it was the 36-year-old’s playing partner, Rory McIlroy (67), who proved the more potent scoring force.

Woods’ ball-striking looked infallible on Thursday, but for nearly every encouraging approach an equally discouraging putt lay in wait. The sole exceptions came at the 11th and third holes, a brace of birdies the bare minimum his performance demanded of the golf course.

As seductive as it is to conceive of Woods’ path to future glory as following a linear, pre-determined route – one defined by the rational application of sound swing mechanics and sensible practice, as opposed to the muckier, mercurial stuff of sports pschology – the sheer asymmetry evident between his performance on and off the greens today told its own story.

The Tiger of old would likely have felt emboldened by his form with the longer clubs, free to set about a methodical dismantling of the golf course. The 35 putts that resulted, however, suggest his golfing rehabilitation still has a considerable distance left to run.

Woods’ greatness was formerly defined by a shifting web of skills and attributes, but at the centre, immovable, lay a willingness to fulfil his potential. He was never afraid to score.

If, as many suspect, Woods is separated from a triumphant rediscovery of his former self by a single 72-hole display of peerless dominance – of the kind he used to showcase with jaw-dropping regularity during his decade at the apex of world sport – every round in which he excels at playing without actually scoring makes that performance, the catalyst, harder to achieve.

The king may well reclaim his throne, but only if throws precedent to the wind and rediscovers the habit of a lifetime.

Conor Nagle