On the prowl: Tiger Woods during practice at Royal Liverpool, where he won the 2006 Open title. Photo: AFP
Ah, can’t you just feel the excitement? That wondrous buzz – coast to coast, to all ships at sea, and across the five continents – that a great sporting champion is about to make his long-awaited return to the main arena? Don’t we all just tingle with excitement, knowing that Tiger Woods is baaaaack, that on this very day in England, he will again be wielding his clubs as swords to so valiantly endeavour to again win the British Open at Royal Liverpool, as he so famously did in 2006, and record his 15th major win?
No, me neither. The truth is that the imminent return of Woods after surgery on his spine forced him to miss the first two majors this year has attracted only the level of interest that the arrival of a train on Platform 4 does, when you are on Platform 1 and heading the other way. The truth is that golf has now moved well on from Woods, and embraced an entire new generation of champions, led by our Adam Scott, who is sitting pretty at No.1.
Palmer and Nicklaus will be getting standing ovations from golf crowds as long as they live, but not Tiger.
It would love to see another major victory go to Scott, or the likes of the Irishman Rory McIlroy, or the Englishman Justin Rose, or Jason Day, also one of ours, who never stops smiling whatever the circumstances and who deserves to bloody well win one soon. I put it to you that what fervour there is to see a player of Woods’ own generation win, it is mostly reserved for his great rival over many years, Phil Mickelson.
For, far from willing Woods to win the way much of the golfing community used to as he relentlessly mowed down major after major, clearly on his way to claiming Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 of the beauties, I put it to you that the mood now is mostly the other way. That is, if noting Woods at all, it is only to record quiet satisfaction that the great Nicklaus’ record appears safe.
And it really does. Woods hasn’t won a major for six – count ’em, SIX – years. In his last time at bat, at the Congressional Country Club in June, Woods missed the cut for the first time since forever. He is 38 years old and not far off that age when, in golfing terms, the long twilight starts to set in. Of course there are plenty of examples of major wins from those older than 40 – though none over 50 – but they are exceptions, not the rule.
The truly amazing thing is that not only does there appear to be no fervour for his comeback, there doesn’t even seem to be much interest? I don’t necessarily say that if Woods was practising his chipping game in my backyard I would pull the curtains shut, but nor would I have a great deal of confidence in selling tickets to watch, unless I also threw in a couple of steak knives.
This likely has a little to do with the fact that he was committing infidelities on an industrial scale – involving private jets and rosters – while selling to the world a public image as the family man to beat them all.
More to the point though, is that golf remembers.
It remembers that when he was king, he did not rule well. It remembers that when he was the youngest and most powerful king there ever was, and seemed well on his way to being an emperor, he was still never a man of the people like Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer; was a taker not a giver; and instead of embracing the rest of the golfing world, the fans, the media, his fellow golfers ... he could only just tolerate them.
Instead, he was revered for one thing and one thing alone – his extraordinary ability to hit a golf ball, under all circumstances, all conditions, against all comers. And now that ability appears to have faded more than somewhat, so, too, has the reverence gone. Palmer and Nicklaus will be getting standing ovations from golf crowds as long as they live, but not Tiger.
Of course, Tiger might still rise in this British Open – they don’t’ call me the "Kiss of Death" for nothing – and it is worth remembering that just last year he went into the final round of the same tournament in the lead by two strokes, only to implode.
But I, for one, hope he doesn’t.
In short, everyone after me: “Carn SCOTTY!” And you, too, Jason Day. (We’d put you in capital letters too with a nickname, too, but DAY-Y, doesn’t work. If you win, we will have to think of something.)