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WORLD OF GOLF: Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy are masters of the disaster as Augusta looms

It says everything about the appalling state of his game that Tiger Woods spent Monday actively considering whether to play for the first time in his illustrious career the week before the Masters.

Since his professional debut in 1997, Tiger has always chosen to practice at home and enjoy the peace and seclusion leading up to the hectic Augusta week. But for these Masters like no other, we find Woods out of shape like never before.

On Sunday at the Sherwood Country Club, where he had won five times and was runner-up five more times in tournament play, he finished 72nd in a 77-man field. That makes it seven tournaments in a row going back to February, where he didn’t even hit a top-35 finish.

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy could face disaster at the Masters this week

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy could face disaster at the Masters this week

The 44-year-old Woods was far out of shape on Sunday and finished in 72nd place in a field of 77 men

The 44-year-old Woods was far out of shape on Sunday and finished in 72nd place in a field of 77 men

The 44-year-old Woods was far out of shape on Sunday and finished in 72nd place in a field of 77 men

It’s a dismal run with no precedent for a man who turns 45 in December.

Tiger’s defense of the Zozo Championship last week made for a truly pathetic viewing experience. On Sunday he was paired with Phil Mickelson. On a track now too easy for modern bombers, the two greatest players of the last quarter century shot a total of eight over par. No wonder many reached for metaphors about the invincibility of Old Father Time and the passing of the torch.

If concerns about Woods for his Masters defense in two weeks’ time are natural, what about the other protagonist Rory McIlroy and his latest quest to complete the Grand Slam career?

Leading up to two tournaments in Las Vegas and California, the Northern Irishman said his performance would be critical to his chances at Augusta. Unfortunately, what he commanded was just more of the same since the lockdown ended – lots of fantastic holes (he had no fewer than 29 birdies, a career-high last week) but way too many bogeys to compete.

McIlroy's preparations, meanwhile, were fraught with errors, his form concerned the build-up

McIlroy's preparations, meanwhile, were fraught with errors, his form concerned the build-up

McIlroy’s preparations, meanwhile, were fraught with errors, his form concerned the build-up

Since the game restarted, how many times have we heard him complain about the number of mistakes he keeps making? That’s now a dozen tournaments since June without a top six finish, a stark contrast to the seven events before the break where he was in the top six each time.

McIlroy, who will no longer be playing for the Masters, will head to Augusta later this week for a reconnaissance mission to try to gauge how different the track will play from the usual April setting. The more urgent demand, however, is a solution to its baffling inconsistency.

So what hope do we have for the two players who have dominated the story at so many editions of the Masters? Given his physical troubles in March, it looked like the delay until November would be a good thing for Tiger, but he’s nowhere near taking advantage of it. Still, it’s Augusta, and we know what happens to Tiger when he turns into Magnolia Lane. Maybe even this Tiger.

As for Rory, at least he will get under the radar as much as he ever will be at the Masters. His many supporters will hope that the relative calm leads to a long-awaited week in which brilliance is not undermined by jokeys.

It’s worth punting on this mercurial left-handed …

Looking for a handy each-way bet for the Masters? You could do worse than go to the bookies and invest a pound or two in the mercurial left-handed – no, not that one – Bubba Watson.

In two events on the West Coast, played on similar greens to Augusta, the 41-year-old appeared to be rediscovering his mojo, finishing 7th and 4th.

We all know what Watson can do when he’s in shape and a green jacket is offered – even if it’s been six years since the last of his two wins.

Left-handed Bubba Watson could be a handy bet for the illustrious tournament

Left-handed Bubba Watson could be a handy bet for the illustrious tournament

Left-handed Bubba Watson could be a handy bet for the illustrious tournament

Why Bilic is a class of dumbass

Like most football fans, I applauded West Brom manager Slaven Bilic when he stood up last week and opposed the imposition of pay-per-view for certain Premier League games. But then he went and left himself. “Football is a working class sport, not like golf or polo,” he said.

Isn’t it time we got past this lazy cliché? Have a look around your own locker room, Slavs, and ask all those working class guys what their favorite sport is after football. Is there indeed a Premier League footballer who is not found on the golf course when he is not on the training ground?

At my home club on the Wirral, factory workers hit off with financial advisers every week, teachers with taxi drivers. Since the lockdown ended, the game has been booming at the club level – in part because working-class football fans who can’t go to games spend their money on the driving range or the golf course.

If you think that golf is a sport these days only practiced by men with a taste for a jacket and tie, you really aren’t paying attention.

West Brom boss Slaven Bilic needs to get past the lazy cliché that golf isn't working class

West Brom boss Slaven Bilic needs to get past the lazy cliché that golf isn't working class

West Brom boss Slaven Bilic needs to get past the lazy cliché that golf isn’t working class

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