Doug McGuigan came over to me on the 17th tee box of Nchanga Golf Club during the final round of the 2011 Zambia Open. ‘What’s Jean doing?’ he asked nervously, writes Mike Taylor.
The golfing veteran was anxious, because Jean Hugo was finishing the stretch one group ahead and crowds were cheering. The two players tied on 16-under-par and McGuigan won the ensuing playoff, but the ‘Hugo effect’ lingers in my memory. He had impacted a rival’s psyche from a hole away.
This Sunday at the PGA Championship Jimmy Walker had a deserved victory. Take nothing away from the star-gazer’s achievement, but there were few ‘major moments’ during the business end of the season’s final major. He had a three-footer for the victory on the 18th.
When you talk pressure, Tiger Woods is the name that comes to mind. Any given Sunday when he was on the back nine there was panic in the ranks. Only the purest swinger of his time (Ernie Els), the hardest worker (Vijay Singh), and the short-game prodigy (Phil Mickelson) consistently gave Nike’s golden boy a run for his money.
Well-founded players would falter after the gallery roars floated across from Woods’ group. They knew he was playing unreal recovery shots, sinking putts, and making his way towards the winner’s podium, even when he wasn’t.
This year Jason Day had the best collective score of nine-under-par at the majors, which was 12 shots better than second place.
On paper, the world number one played the way he should, but on the final nine holes at Baltusrol he did little to make his opponent crumble. Yes, he eagled the 18th, but Walker needed a par to win.
A few years back everyone on tour was saying Rory McIlroy would be hard to beat when he teed up. Then it was Jordan Spieth, and now it’s Day. But none of the ‘Big-Three’ seem t0 have the on-course presence of a legend.
Maybe the game has changed and the margins are smaller, but other sports continue to find individuals who break the mould. Usain Bolt, Lewis Hamilton, Dan Carter, AB de Villiers, Christiano Ronaldo & Lionel Messi (football has two), and so on.
That professional golfer’s cliche ‘I can only do my best and hopefully it’s good enough’ doesn’t correlate with ‘taking a Tiger line.’
Woods didn’t leave putts short on the final stretch, and maybe it’s time for Day to do the same.