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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Countdown to Merion as Tiger tees off in 2012

I’ve been counting the days for a while, but in case you’re interested, as Thursday dawns in Delco, according to my shaky math, it’s 510 days until the 2013 U.S. Open tees off at Merion Golf Club’s famed East Course.
Also as this Thursday dawns, Tiger Woods is in the middle of his first official round of 2012 at something called the Abu Dhabi Championship in the United Arab Emirates.
Woods comes into 2012 stuck on 14 major championships as he has been since he quite famously won the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on a broken leg. Since then, a few less tangible things in Woods’ life have been broken, most notably his marriage and his image.
Once upon a time, it seemed the 2013 Open at Merion might be the time when Tiger was approaching or about to equal or break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major professional championships, a goal that Woods has never been shy about his desire to reach.
Now, you wonder if Woods can recapture some of the greatness that has made him the most recognizable figure in the history of the game.
He played well in his trip Down Under late last year, grabbing the final clinching point for the U.S. team in the Presidents Cup and then winning the Chevron World Challenge, a tournament in California he hosts and with just an 18-player field.
But he did it with a couple of clutch, Tiger-esque birdies on the last two holes. The last one was punctuated by some familiar fist pumps that no doubt had the people at NBC/The Golf Channel (you know they’re both under the Comcast umbrella — and it’s a pretty darn big umbrella — these days) doing some fist pumps of their own.
Woods was up front during a pre-tournament interview session in Abu Dhabi the other day. He could start his season on the PGA Tour this weekend at Torrey Pines, a course where he won as a junior player, triumphed a couple of times in regular tour stops, and, of course, stared down Rocco Mediate in a playoff while limping to that U.S. Open title.
But no, he’s in Abu Dhabi because they’re paying him to be there. That $4 a gallon gas can buy you as many golfers as you want.
"You know, I’d have to say yes, it certainly does," Woods told The Associated Press on the influence of appearance fees on his decision to travel to the Middle East. "That’s one of the reasons a lot of the guys who play in Europe, they do play in Europe, and they do get paid. I think the only tour that doesn’t pay is the U.S. tour. But you know, a lot of the guys play all around the world and they do get appearance fees."
Woods was also not looking forward to the impending publication of a book by Hank Haney, his former swing coach. The book is due out in March. Haney was fired as Woods’ swing coach right around the time he came to Aronimink Golf Club to promote the 2010 AT&T National.
It was really the first time Woods had faced questions from the media since all his extramarital affairs had been splashed across the tabloids — OK, we might have done a little splashing ourselves here at the Delco Times. That day at Aronimink was the media circus to beat all media circuses.
So there is some expectation that a part of Woods’ life that he would just as soon forget might get dredged up again in the Haney book.
"Certainly it’s something that I have to deal with," Woods said. "I get asked at press conferences what these guys have done, and that’s just part of it. Am I disappointed? Yes. Frustrated? Certainly, because I have to answer the questions … So I’ve answered them and I guess I’ll have to continue doing it. Hopefully, this will come to an end."
Woods has never seemed to grasp the fact that by becoming one of the richest and most visible athletes on the planet, people are interested in his life. He could crawl into a hole somewhere, but then the sheiks in Abu Dhabi wouldn’t be paying him a million bucks to come smack the ball around the desert a little. Comes with the territory, dude.
As a person who toured the grounds at Merion’s East Course, oh, about a thousand times in 12 years as a looper there in an earlier life, I’ve often wondered how Woods’ game would fit in the tight confines of that little corner of Delaware County.
I might finally get my answer in about, what is it, 510 days. And I wonder how many more major championships Tiger will have by then. The PGA Tour won’t be coming to Aronimink this year as it did the last two summers as a fill-in while Congressional Country Club staged the 2011 U.S. Open, but 2012 promises to be a very interesting year. And I’ll keep you updated on that countdown to Merion every now and then.
Speaking of Aronimink …
In its last print edition, Golf World polled PGA Tour plays anonomously about the places they like — and don’t like — to play.
Finishing in eighth place among the places they do like to play is a course they won’t get to play this year, Aronimink Golf Club, the Donald Ross gem in Newtown Square that, as I mentioned, played host to the AT&T National the last two years while Congressional C.C. in Bethesda, Md., staged the 2011 U.S. Open.
Aronimink actually finished two places better than the course it was filling in for, Congressional, where the AT&T will return this summer.
The parting shot on the little Aronimink capsule was delivered by a major champion who is quoted as saying, "Sensational course, great conditioning, setup has been good and the crowds energetic. Why again we are going back to Congressional?"
That seemed to be the sentiment while the events were going on, so I can’t say I’m shocked. But just in case it didn’t mean much coming from the golf writer at the Delco Daily Times, that’s a pretty nice pat on the back from a major player to everybody involved at Aronimink with staging the event and yes, you the golf-starved fans of the Philadelphia area who proved once again the absolute insanity of not staging a regular PGA Tour event in this area each year.