Happy New Year everybody. This is the month of two long-awaited comebacks:  Tiger Woods and madillgolf.com!  You’ll all be delighted that Maureen is recovering so well from her shoulder surgery that she can now manage a full swing and increase the range of her tips accordingly, so prepare to be amazed in due course.

It remains to be seen if Tiger’s body can stand the strain of tournament golf at the highest level again but he’s intending to test himself with four events in five weeks, starting at his much-loved Torrey Pines in California on 26th January.  He’ll never be the player he was – no one is; we all change – but if the frame holds up, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t win again.  The intensity and single-mindedness of youth have gone but ageing codgers make crafty, canny golfers still capable of winning the biggest events.  At 41, Tiger is hardly old but has he burnt himself out a la Seve or is there still plenty in the tank?  Mystic Madill has no idea but is confident all will be revealed in the fullness of time.

This being the start of the year, when some people have already been bruised and battered beyond belief, we’re going to ease in gently and be a bit touchy-feely, emphasising the feel-good factor.  I have to confess that I cheered when I heard that Sergio Garcia had announced his engagement, to Angela Akins.  Like all of us Sergio can be a grumpy so-and-so when things aren’t going his way but he’s always been one of my favourites and I’d love him to win a major championship.  Failing that, I’d settle for him being happy!  Buena suerte Angela y Sergio.

Sergio and his fiancee Angela.

Another of my favourites is Rory McIlroy, who is playing in South Africa this week and did some of the safari stuff, getting up very close with a large, presumably well-fed lion, before strutting his own stuff on the fairways at Glendower GC in Johannesburg.  Rory is engaged to Erica Stoll and in the first instalment of a wide-ranging interview with the inimitable Paul Kimmage in the Sunday Independent (see www.independent.ie), he revealed himself to be a thoughtful, well-grounded young man.  And he’ll be on duty at the DDF Irish Open at Portstewart the week starting the 3rd of July.  Don’t miss it.

Rory and fiancee Erica. Hope they’ll need the shades in Portstewart in July.

In the USA, it’s all change in many areas.  There’s a new president-in-waiting in Donald Trump, a keen golfer, who has courses at Balmedie, near Aberdeen; Turnberry, on the west coast of Scotland; and Doonbeg, on the west coast of Ireland.  A special relationship indeed.  There’s a new Ryder Cup captain in Jim Furyk (we in Europe have Thomas Bjorn, so bonne chance to them both in Paris next year); and the PGA Tour has a new commissioner in Jay Monahan.  His predecessor Tim Finchem, who was aided and abetted by the Tiger factor, is a hard act to follow and retired to many tributes but I’ll never forget the words of one awed observer who was left open-mouthed by his response to a question at the Presidents Cup in Melbourne.

It was the first time the event had ventured outside America and I asked a question, naively expecting an answer that might mention the good of the game, international relations or some such girly guff.  Nothing so touch-feely from lawyer Tim.  Whatever it was he said, I was like a rabbit in the headlights, mesmerised, panicked, bewildered, toast.  I put down my pen and relied on the stenographers.  In the end it all came down to the bottom line (silly me, thinking it could ever have been anything else) and my mate, who’d heard it all, said afterwards:  “If I ever commit murder, I want that man to defend me.”

Happy retirement Tim.  The formidable Mr Finchem.