Thursday, April 7, 2011

McIlroy Climbs Beyond Greatness, as Tiger Diminishes Into Darkness

His stylish attire, of course, emblazoned in his greenish golf shirt with blue and white stripes and the Nike logo on it, was more attractive than his game itself. The afternoon was elegant, on the day the beautiful venue was engaging as the creeks flowed nicely, as the azaleas blossomed and as the leaderboard was ever so changeable at Augusta National, a refreshing scene for the Masters annual event.

But this time, even if Tiger Woods can amazingly return to normalcy and take the smoothest path to polish as the world's most popular athlete, the afternoon was anything but lovely or kind to Woods, an unhinged golfer trying to reestablish a renewed status. So just like that, faster than he swears angrily or tosses his iron stick in frustration into the creek and engages in obscenity, Woods is on a mission towards not only repairing his tattered image, but also winning another major title in pursuit to shatter Jack Nicklaus' record-setting 18 titles.

In a forgiven country, after he notoriously opposed that he was above any wrongdoings as we truly believed he was the most spotless athlete on the planet, Woods is ready to move forward and clear his name of guilt. In the meantime, we are long past the feel-sorry-for-Tiger stage when he has clearly faded, wilted and declined. We are left guessing and debating if Woods can ever win another major title, even if he's well past his prime and has a slight chance in reemerging into a prominent name in an insipid sport. He was supposed to be a cure for an uneventful sport, but in truth, he needs a win to heal from the dreadful memories of a grisly sex scandal that forayed into his personal life and revealed his double-life.

The point is, he hasn't been spectacular ever since he suffered a hideous downfall in his lifetime, no longer perceived as the immaculate role model with modest family values running an educational center for children. It's hardly nice for the popular face of the sport to deteriorate, an event qualified not only as uninteresting but feeble without the famous Woods, despite his surprising sins that placed his marriage in tatters.

The recent trend of pursuing a title at Augusta has shrunk and, as usual, he seems forlorn in the sport he once dominated. In a complex sport, with all the applause he accepted from zealots in the galleries, he has fallen from grace and has been the only athlete who couldn't redeem or refrain from public humiliation. By any logical perceptions, it's hard to envision Woods returning to usual form when it looks as if his remarkable, dazzling reign has come to an end. With all evidence of historic feats and milestones no other golfer in this era can replicate, comes an awful ending to his precious career, a livelihood that finished so badly after diminishing as the iconic figure amid the scandal.

When he arrived to Amen Corner, a famous crossroad and locale at Augusta National where a restful cabin with a stone chimney hidden in a cluster of trees, azaleas and dogwoods and where spectators can sit in portable seats and witness shots to the 11th hole, 12th hole, tee shots and second shots on the par-5 No. 13, he was welcomed with a warm reception. And seemingly, the crowd was cheering and glorifying Woods when he walked into Amen Corner, a location on the course that should rightfully so be renamed to Tiger's Corner for the spectators powerful roars.

The demise of one of the greatest golfers all-time is gradually in existence, an evident footnote that Woods doesn't have the swagger to seize control of the leaderboard. It's the Masters in Augusta, an atmosphere where Woods has been winless since 2005, and particularly his inability to compete efficiently and intimidate opposing golfers is killing his capability and potential fearsomeness. There is no doubt in our minds that Woods is precisely more potent on a video game released featuring the embattled athlete, unsuccessful in finding his mojo to contend for another green jacket.

The theory was for Woods to rid the uncertainty of his personal scandal and relight his dominance to reclaim invincibility. It's foolish not to realize that every dynasty eventually recedes, but a legacy usually carries on. Nobody aside from Woods believes that his legacy will remain intact, a reputation in tatters after a sequence of allegations from a sex scandal. Nobody respects Woods as a person, let alone his talent. Nobody, that is, seems intimidated or fearful in competing against Woods. Nor, for that matter, has anybody backed down.

For now, at age 35, he's numbered and vulnerable to falter against anybody. Almost obviously, it's not certain that he'll past Nicklaus for title No. 19 in the near future, but if anything, will retire well shy of an honorable plateau in the sport. That alone would definitely put an end to the draining gibberish about his recent infidelity and transgressions on his ex-wife. Though he is on pace to reach a sumptuous mark, he owns 14 major titles in the twilight period of his career, aiming to return to greatness by amending his woes and doing everything he can in the upcoming competitions.

In these Masters, on the afternoon when Woods played horrible and never delivered to ease much of the tension, Rory McIlroy, the 21-year old kid, shot his best ever Thursday -- accounted for seven birdies and no bogeys in an easy 7-under par 65. He climbed the leaderboard with a 65 and stayed in the lead until Woods' sleeper at a major championship Y.E. Yang managed to gather a 7 under but then bogeyed 17 and 18. On the eve before the first round, McIlroy ventured to a shopping mall in Augusta and bought a football.

In front of his rented Augusta home, he was tossing the ball around with a few friends and then eventually a neighbor came out. For McIlroy, who has quickly emerged among many at the Masters, his chances of fitting for a green jacket is probable with victories on both the PGA and European tour. Therefore, he is composed and prepared for the challenge mentally when many inexperienced golfers in the unfriendly confines at Augusta National, a place where the winds blow intensely and where the greens for the players could be difficult to master, lacks composure and aplomb.

This year, he didn't miss the cut. And he never finished lower than 20th. That happened in 2008, during his disappointing lapse. His visit at St. Andrews in last year's British Open was greatly impressive and it represented European golf in many ways. That is when he shot a 63, an 80 the following day and 60 for two rounds, finishing third -- and now in the Masters, he is awe-inspiring. Better than Woods, he played brilliantly and as well as Rickie Fowler and Jason Day, a pair of young players with bright futures in a strategic sport.

Unbelievably, Day shot even-par 72 and Fowler, splendid on the fairways in the Masters, birdied four of the final five holes to card a 70. Stylish on the day, McIlroy wore sunglasses on the back of his cap and played proficiently like no other. As for fashion, Fowler won the contest, dressed in green completely that attracted much attention. It's rational to believe that Woods and Mickelson aren't the dynamic duo the nation adores watching as we embrace the newfound era of skilled players.

Suddenly, the elite golfers, such as Phil and Tiger are plunging -- on the course, on the fairways at Augusta, not the main attraction in April but the two high-profile faces of Augusta National in oblivion. Without even being heckled or harassed by a plane carrying a banner overhead, in what was supposed to be a year that he cure the painful thoughts of disadvantages, he shot a 71 in the first round, a customary trait lately but never climbs back into contention.

And he won't come back this year either, if he continues to miss putts. His archenemy, Mickelson, the defending champion, began with seven consecutive pars and carded 70, making a birdie from the pine straw right of the fairway. But where he gaffed was by driving it into the bushes left of Rae's Creek, a shot that almost rolled in a birdie putt before it rested for a par.

These days, Woods just isn't the same untouchable, intimidating guy. Maybe we can trust in McIlroy. This could be the moment he shines. This could be the next celebrity in golf. Bye, Tiger. Hello, McIlroy??