It’s Monday and it’s the morning after the night before. The rest of my colleagues from WestwoodOne radio have departed and I have a little bit of time to draw breath and reflect as I wait in our rental house for my lift to Atlanta airport. I’ve switched off the television and the endless post game shows the Americans like so much and, silence really IS golden, especially when you’ve spent the last four days with headphones clamped to your head and a dozen voices ringing in your ears all day long.
What, oh what have we just witnessed? At its simplest, we’ve seen Tiger Woods win his fifth green jacket, his 15th major and a whole lot of cash. Did I think I’d ever see Tiger win again after the trials and tribulations (mostly self-inflicted) of the past decade? No, I didn’t. Did I WANT him to win again? Frankly, no, not particularly. I had too often witnessed him being arrogant and rude, acting with a huge degree of entitlement and scant regard for others. While his golf has always been mesmerising and a privilege to watch, especially in his prime, it has been hard to warm to the man himself.
Life, however, has a way of knocking the corners off us all and that is certainly true of Tiger Woods. Two years ago he needed a nerve blocker just to make it to the traditional Tuesday Champions’ Dinner and he confided to a few that evening that he felt he might never play golf again. He left that dinner, boarded a flight to London and visited a Harley Street surgeon who convinced him that all might not be totally lost. There was one more surgery to try. Fast forward twelve months and Tiger was back at Augusta, but this time he was travelling with his clubs.
There were so many unknowns. How would his body hold up? Could he ever be competitive again and in a major at that? The answers at the end of that week were cautiously positive. He finished in a tie for 32nd but the good news was he was getting stronger physically and ready to see if he could get a full season of playing under his belt. All through 2018 he was like a man setting out to walk across a frozen river, testing to see if the ice would hold his weight. The further he got into the season the more confident he became. The ice was holding!
The walk, then the golf, became more assured and by the time he had finished 6th in the Open, was runner-up in the PGA and had won the Tour Championship most of his questions had been answered, emphatically. His dismal and exhausted Ryder Cup performance in Paris, however, served as a reminder to him that future scheduling would be key.
So, back to Augusta twelve months later and only one of that raft of unanswered questions was remaining – would he ever win another major, the yardstick by which he, and therefore we, measure greatness in the game?
Now we all know the answer to that.So, normal service resumed, you might say? Actually, no. Did you see the players waiting to congratulate him at the entrance to the recording area? Bubba, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Xander Schauffele, Ian Poulter and Bernhard Langer amongst others? That welcome committee from his peers had been absent at his previous 14 major triumphs and is a huge clue as to how his interaction with his rival competitors has altered. Indeed, he paid tribute recently to the young American players for inspiring him to get out there and get playing again.
It’s a very neat circle as Tiger was the one who originally inspired them as children to think that golf would be a really cool thing to try. It was also the first time his own two children, Sam and Charlie, had had an opportunity to see their father do what he used to do routinely. This may well be the major Tiger savours most – for lots of reasons.
I was there in Augusta in 1997 when Tiger won his first major and I was there at his 14th win in Torrey Pines when he won playing on a broken leg. I was also there at loads of the ones in between. I didn’t expect there to be a 15th and I didn’t expect to be pleased for him, yet I am. The golfer is familiar but the man I see behind the golfer is different and for that I’m glad.
I travelled to Georgia hoping to see an historic Masters, having in mind a Rory win which would make him the sixth member of that oh-so-exclusive club of players to complete the career grand slam. That wasn’t to be and it was a different narrative that was rolled out this second week in April.
No matter, I can wait another twelve months – or as long as it takes – for Rory’s undoubted destiny because this week was special…..very, very special.