Rust Or Rest For Woods

The fallout from Tiger’s mind-blowing victory at Augusta continues to fuel the fires of speculation as to whether there are more majors in his bag. Is the long-standing number of 18 held by the Golden Bear Jack Nicklaus in jeopardy?

Before I delve into the history books, let me bring everyone up to date on post-Masters Tiger. Plenty of eye witness accounts have Tiger looking stiff and sore. At 43 years old, being sore following an exhausting 72 holes at the Masters is understandable. After all, playing in any 72-hole event takes its toll, but add in the fact that it’s the emotionally and physically demanding Masters, and it could be called soreness on steroids.

As you can imagine, the media could not get enough even though Tiger’s press conference went much longer than usual. It was easy to comprehend that this was not just “another win,” but realistically, a historical happening. When the Golden Bear won his sixth Masters at the age of 46, his press conference lasted four and a half hours.

Almost immediately after Tiger’s winning putt dropped, many were already making the case for this victory to be known as the greatest comeback in sports. However, I reside in the Ben Hogan camp on this topic. While Tiger had a great deal to overcome, there’s no doubt that modern medical methods allowed him to get back to where he could live a more normal, everyday life. The rest was just plain hard work and determination. What Ben Hogan accomplished in 1950 for me is still the ultimate comeback. Hogan’s automobile was hit head-on by a Greyhound bus in 1949 and the first assessment was that Hogan would never walk again. In 1949 he couldn’t walk, much less play golf, but he persevered in his recovery and just 11 months after his near-fatal accident, Hogan was able to resume his professional golf career. He astounded everyone by winning that 1950 U.S. Open at Merion and even had to play an extra 18 holes in a playoff to do it.

The way I look at it, Hogan and Tiger had many similar attributes and each seemed to benefit from their physically challenging situations. In just one week for both, when they had been seen as aloof and maybe even arrogant, they became an inspiration to golfers everywhere. No doubt what Tiger accomplished was special but the greatest comeback still belongs to Hogan.

Not long after Tiger’s last putt at Augusta found the bottom of the cup, talk shifted to whether or not Tiger has what it will take from this point onward to equal or eclipse the Golden Bear’s total of 18 major championship titles. This is where I hit the brake pedal instead of the gas pedal. Tiger will need three more majors just to tie the record. Three really is a big number when you’re talking golf majors. Only 18 players in golf history have won three or more of golf’s major championships. The only golfer in history to accomplish three or more in their 40s is old Tom Morris, who did it four times, with the last being in 1867.

The big question we’re trying to figure out is . . . just how much is left in the Tiger tank? He will be going to the PGA Championship (May 13 to 19) at Bethpage Black right in The Independent’s backyard with no competitive rounds since Augusta. Will that month-long layoff make him healthy or make him rusty? For me, his performance at the PGA Championship will provide some keen insight as to how safe Jack’s Major Championship record really is.

On the local scene, a big Indy salute to Denise Martorana, a many time Women’s Club Champion at Southampton Golf Club. Denise, in her ongoing battle with ovarian cancer and recovering from an Achilles injury, is showing that her talent and toughness have wheels. She recently came out on top in the prestigious Palm Beach County Women’s Amateur Championship. After the round, Denise said, “Winning is always nice, especially with what I have been going through.”

By the way, a little heads up to those who will be teeing it up at the PGA Championship . . . Word has it Denise has played Bethpage Black many times and just may have a little tip on taming the monster. 

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