Oh boy ... golfing world licks its lips at Tiger’s return
This comeback is about fulfilling destiny
After four back surgeries, at 42 years of age and five years without a professional win, most pro golfers would be cruising towards a new direction in their careers, not trying to compete with a swathe of talent almost unprecedented in history.
But then again, there is only one golfer named Tiger Woods.
Just over a week ago at the Valspar Championship on the US PGA Tour, Tiger had the galleries roaring louder than they have since his dominance waned more than half a decade ago.
He was back in the hunt, wearing familiar red and stalking an increasingly edgy bunch of players he helped create. Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Jason Day, Justin Thomas and a legion more, the result of the Tiger’s success, are all looking over their shoulders at the one man they thought was gone for good.
On the 17th, needing to make something happen to stay in the hunt, Tiger did what pre-troubled Tiger always did – the improbable. As a 44-foot putt curled towards the hole and dropped for birdie, the roars around Innisbrook Golf Course were not just recognising the moment. It was a primal scream connecting the past to a new golfing future, which Tiger looks set to shape for a little longer.It was Tiger who inspired the current generation of golfing stars, but, instead of sitting back and watching his creations dominate the world like some Bond villain, he has fought through unimaginable personal and professional problems to become a factor again.
Considering Tiger’s fortune at one stage was close to a billion dollars, money is not a driving force in the Woods return. To endure failed comebacks and false starts with his body breaking down tells you that this return is about fulfilling destiny.
The number 18 has always driven Tiger. You can imagine it scrawled in the gym walls where he trains and on walking aids he used during rehabilitation. Eighteen is not a number, but a target for Tiger.
It’s incredible to think that in June it will be 10 years since he won his last major – the 2008 US Open.
At that stage it looked as if Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors was going to be swamped by Tiger. But golf and life always have a way of throwing up complications and Tiger missed many of his prime years through factors both in and out of his control.
That record now seems far off but six months ago it looked completely out of sight and set to stand for another several generations. Yet, based on the evidence of a tie for second and a tie for fifth in the past two weeks, there is now a glimmer that Tiger’s record chase is back on.The season’s first major – the Masters at Augusta in three weeks – is a course tailor-made for Tiger and one where he has earned four green jackets.
Statistically Tiger’s driving is inaccurate at this early stage of the comeback, which could be a consequence of his multiple back issues, but Augusta is also a course that is more forgiving to errant tee shots.
What Augusta demands is precise putting and a strong constitution to be aggressive on greens slicker than a used car salesman’s hair.
Tiger is nothing if not a competitor and, if he is physically ready at Augusta, expect the great man to make a serious tilt at adding to his 14 majors.
In a sport where the best lose far more than they win, including Woods, there was always an air of inevitability that when Tiger was in contention on the back nine on a Sunday only one outcome was likely.
He’s not quite there yet, as Sunday’s falter on the back nine at the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill showed when he hit his drive on the 16th out of bounds. But there are signs that this comeback is for real and that with each passing week his game is improving.
Rory, Dustin and Jordan are no longer playing to emulate Tiger, they are going to have to beat the golfing version of Mr Miyagi to fulfil their own destinies. The pupils have to beat the master.
And the watching golfing world are going to be the biggest beneficiaries of what’s about to happen.