Tiger Woods plays his major of season in British Open at Hoylake
Woods has already missed the Masters and the U.S. Open
Gary Player celebrating 40th anniversary of his triumph at Royal Lytham
Player believes Woods at a crossroads in his career
Forty years ago this week golf legend Gary Player scored one of his most memorable victories at the British Open and now he is willing Tiger Woods to do the same in the 2104 edition at Hoylake as the American battles back from injury and loss of form.
South African Player was the last player to lead outright for all four rounds of the oldest major when he won at Royal Lytham and St Anne’s in 1974, adding to an earlier triumph at that year’s Masters at Augusta.
“Woods is definitely the most talented man who ever held a golf club in his hand,” Player told CNN.
But the former world number one has been troubled by injury this season and has only played once since March – sidelined for the Masters and the U.S. Open – and missing the cut at Congressional in his comeback event.
Player believes golf is the poorer for Woods not being at the top of the leaderboard.
“We need this icon. He improves ratings and brings in more media attention to golf,” said the 78-year-old South African.
“And back home in South Africa a lot of young black players are aspiring to be a champion like him.”
Player, who won nine majors and 165 tournaments in an incredible career spanning over 50 years, does however acknowledge that Woods is at a crossroads in his career.
The 38-year-old American has not triumphed in one of golf’s big four events since his remarkable 2008 U.S. Open win – his 14th major – before a combination of damaging revelations in his private life and injuries sent his fortunes into decline.
“He has got a challenge on his hand and it would not be a surprise if he never wins another major,” admited Player.
“But if he does, he could go on to win quite a few more because he has what I call ‘it.’”
That ‘it’ the South African legend believes is reserved for the true superstars of golf: “In my humble opinion you have to win six majors to be classed as a superstar,” added Player.
Ahead of the Open’s start Thursday, Player also thinks that Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy has that quality and can build on his two majors – perhaps with victory at the Lancashire seaside links.
“Rory is a wonderful player, an unbelievable talent,” said Player, who is also an admirer of current world No. 1 Adam Scott of Australia and fellow South Africans Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, saying the latter has the “most fantastic golf swing.”
But for a dedicated and driven man such as Player there is no substitute for sheer hard work. “Talent is one think, to apply it another.”
He gives the example of American golfer Tom Weiskopf, who made golf look easy, but had to give best to players like himself and Nicklaus and perhaps never quite fulfilled his talent, with just a British Open win at Royal Troon in 1973 in the majors.
This time 40 years ago Player came into the British Open having already won the U.S. Masters for the second time.
“I can remember it like yesterday,” said the South African. “I was one shot ahead of Weiskopf and Dave Stockton playing the last and hit a nine-iron, tossed the club to my caddy and knew I was going to make a birdie.”
That left him two shots clear of the chasing pair at Augusta, which he won for the third and final time in 1978.
Player then went on to win at Royal Lytham by four shots from England’s Peter Oosterhuis, but only after surviving a near lost ball on the penultimate hole of the final round and then famously having to play a left handed shot after his approach shot to the 18th rested against the clubhouse wall.
It was held to be the archetypal example of Player’s tenacity and shot saving skills around the green, which was one of the keys to his prolonged success as a professional.