The striking thing about Tiger Woods during his comeback in the Bahamas last week was how happy he looked. He was positively beaming. He exuded enjoyment and even bonhomie. He seemed to engage with everyone around him, looking interviewers in the eye as though they were fellow members of the human race, not treating them with the ill-disguised contempt of his playing prime.
No matter how many majors you’ve won, how many records you’ve broken, how much money you’ve won, if you’ve been away from the game you love for nearly 16 months, you’re going to be ecstatic to be back. Just playing five rounds in a row (including the pro-am) was a triumph for a man who confessed that there had been days when he couldn’t get out of bed, let alone walk, let alone hit a golf ball, let alone play a few holes, let alone compete in public. Anyone who’s had back trouble – and they say there are two sorts of people in the world: those with backs and those without – will empathise. It’s scary as well as painful and debilitating.
Tiger is an ultra when it comes to training and working out, so he’ll do all the stuff needed to keep his back and the rest of his body in some sort of working order and then trust to luck that a sneeze here, a tweak there or a slip or missed step or two don’t put the kibosh on all his best efforts. He’s in his 40s now, so there should be a lot of life left in him, his prime even, just not on the golf course.
Tiger had a golfing prime like few others and he’s not going to get that back but as an ever-formidable competitor, he’ll doubtless be coming back cleverer, cannier, hungrier (in a different way) and even more determined to show that he can still win against the best. It should be fun to watch, especially if he keeps smiling.
Rory McIlroy, who watched the event on telly, said, “The excitement levels are huge any time Tiger tees it up and he looked comfortable, he looked happy, which I thought was the most interesting thing. He looked happy to be out there, which we probably haven’t seen in a while.
“Any time we saw him on a golf course in the last couple of years he had the furrowed brow and he’s been so concentrated. But he looked happy so obviously that tells you he has been away and he has come back out happy and he is in a better place.”
Rory was talking to Brian Keogh (see the ever-informative irishgolfdesk.com) in Dublin after winning Sportsperson of the Year at the Excellence in Sport Awards in aid of the Irish Youth Foundation. Padraig Harrington, ever positive and generous, was also impressed with what he saw of Woods: “Before last week I wasn’t sure if he’d ever win a major again. I think he will now. There were a lot of good signs…….It’s exceptionally good for golf that he’s back. It’s incredibly big for the game.”
Not quite as big but very important from a European point of view and huge for the man himself was the announcement of Thomas Bjorn as Europe’s Ryder Cup captain for the match in Paris in 2018. The Dane played in three matches (all won) and has been a vice-captain four times (only one defeat, at Hazeltine last year), so he knows what it’s all about. He made his debut under Seve Ballesteros at Valderrama, winning his second day fourball with Ian Woosnam against Justin Leonard, the Open champion and Brad Faxon.
Leonard had had five birdies and an eagle in that defeat and he continued in the same vein when he set off in the singles – against Bjorn. Four down after four, the Dane was counselled to relax by his peripatetic (and very unrelaxed and unrelaxing) captain. “I AM RELAXED,” Bjorn bellowed from the depths of his soul. Seve retreated and his rookie managed a very valuable half point (although he lost the last when his captain reappeared).
Bonne chance en France, Thomas.