JOHN MCHENRY: Time against him but Tiger Woods can still claim elusive 15th major

As we head into the silly season on the golfing calendar, I would like to reflect on some of the more remarkable performances of the year. But firstly, I must say that it is wonderful to finally see Tiger Woods return to the competitive fold this week, after all of his injury setbacks.

Tiger draws emotionally- charged opinion from all quarters but on golfing matters alone, few can argue that his 106 professional wins worldwide, and a win ratio of 30% (as compared to Jack Nicklaus’s 12%) for all tournaments played, ranks him among the very best players of all time, and maybe the best.

At 41, time is no longer Tiger’s friend, so let’s hope now that his prolonged absence from the game has been well spent, allowing his body to fully recover, so that he can push to establish himself in the top tier again, and perhaps contest for his elusive 15th major.

The odds of him doing that at this stage in his career must be very slim but he cannot be discounted. In his prime, Tiger was the best athlete on many fronts and while he will never again enjoy that level of dominance, Tiger has the luxury of playing the next few years with nothing to prove to anyone but himself. So if he can stay healthy, focused, and confident, and regain the short game prowess he demonstrated in his younger years, then anything is still possible.

For me, 2016 was a breakthrough year for three people in particular: Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson, and our own Seamus Power.

While Seamus is only starting out, the manner in which Dustin Johnson and most particularly Henrik Stenson secured their first major championships, through masterful displays of power and finesse golf, suggests that next year, now that they have got the “monkey” off their back, could be very fruitful for both.

Seamus Power, on the other hand, is a man in transition having secured his full playing rights on the PGA Tour through the Web.com Tour. In a game where progress and defeat are only a few shots apart, I have been truly impressed by the manner in which Power has embraced the challenge of constantly competing on foreign soil against the best players and the deepest fields of any tour.

He gained confidence from last year’s win at the United Leasing & Finance Championship and stamina from the weekly tournament grind. And I have been very impressed with his early 2017 season form (hard to get your head around that one) which could have already put him in the winner’s enclosure but for a few poor last round performances where his stroke average is 74.

Going forward, the key ingredient for Seamus is patience, to understand a year on Tour is a marathon, not a sprint. Sure he is impatient to win and he has every right to think that way, but he must also recognise that the odds are very much against him now he is constantly playing against more seasoned professionals who have greater familiarity and experience of the venues that they are playing.

That said, fortune favours the brave, and let’s hope that Seamus quickly finds regular form over four rounds so that he can secure his playing privileges for the following year and set about winning more titles, something he is surely destined to do.

And so as the year comes to an end, if I could grant some wishes to players, then I would offer the following:

Patience to Seamus and to Leona Maguire, who recently decided to turn down the opportunity to go to the final stage of the Tour School in America. This was obviously a weighted decision, and given her 2016 form it may be one Leona will yet regret, but she must now trust that she has made the right decision and maximise the time she has left in the amateur game to get her psychology degree and fine-tune her game.

Short game to Rory McIlroy, Tiger Woods and Adam Scott.

In Tiger’s case, he simply can’t be competitive again without a great short game, whereas for McIlroy and Scott, greater consistency in this area may just dictate whether they win major championships this year, especially the US Masters.

Good health to Tiger Woods and Jason Day.

Tiger for the reasons mentioned above and Jason because he seems to be regularly impacted by health issues over the past couple of years. The professional golf game needs to have its best players fully fit and competing.

Confidence to Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson.

Both men had breakthrough years, but if they can carry that confidence into next year then they may well be the ones setting the competitive bar for others to match and pass.

An early win to Jordan Spieth.

Despite his early success last year and his victory once again a couple of weeks ago, let’s hope that Jordan Spieth starts the calendar in great form. Not a power player by any means, Jordan’s proven ability to win by playing “smarter golf’ is a breath of fresh air — something which was sadly missed in 2016.

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