I suppose even a sporting legend like Tiger Woods will take his inspiration wherever he can but his inclination may be to consider that only fellow legends can offer the real deal. As he makes his long-awaited proper comeback at the Farmers Insurance Open in the familiar surrounds of Torrey Pines in San Diego, he need only look across the world, to Melbourne, where his seemingly ageless mate Roger Federer is in yet another Grand Slam final. The Swiss is 36 but still going strong, having been relatively injury-free until the later stages of his stellar career. He has learned how to manage his body – and mind – to cope with the stresses and strains, the twists and turns of one of the most physically demanding of sports.
Federer still loves the sport and the competition and anything he wins now is a bonus. He’ll get nervous when things get tense but essentially he’s playing without fear, for the fun of it – but with a tigerish competitive ferocity. If Tiger’s newly fused back – and the rest of his body – can stand up to the rigours of more than a tournament here and there, he’ll be dangerous. Not because he doesn’t care – he does, he can’t not, it’s in his blood, in his bones – but because he’s never not going to be a legend, the man many people believe is the best golfer who’s ever lived.
Of course he wants to win five more majors to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record but what’s a major? An artificial media construct. There are a handful of golfers who stand out as the best who’ve ever played the game. Nicklaus is one of them. Tiger is another. That’s a given. There’s Harry Vardon, Bobby Jones, Ben Hogan, young Tom Morris, maybe not that many others who scared most of the opposition into submission before a shot had been hit. Tiger is 42, young really for a golfer these days but he’s been through a lot and the spotlight is blinding, unremitting, so who knows how much this Tiger has left in the tank.He’s still learning what he can and can’t do but he says he has no pain now and it doesn’t hurt when he takes the club back or before or after impact. It doesn’t hurt when he walks and that’s all progress. Now it’s all a bit a magical mystery tour, as he explained in his pre-tournament press conference:-
“I’d like to meet somebody who can swing it over 120 miles an hour with a fused back………no one understands that. So I have to rely on my own feels and play around with what my body can and cannot do. It’s not going to look like it used to. I don’t have the mobility that I used to and that’s just the reality. Now it’s just a matter of what can I do and that’s just practising and getting my feels and trusting, experimenting a lot, to try and figure out what can this body do and how explosive can it be and how am I going to control shots with different shapes, am I going to get different feels…….Some of that stuff is different and I’m still learning it.”
It’s right up his street. He might have launched into his shots with brutal force but he has always loved the creative side of the game, the conjuring up of miracle recoveries and if anyone can use finesse to counter today’s unsubtle power gamers, it’s TW. Whether he ends up burning bright or raging against the dying of the light, we’ll hear all about it. Augusta anyone?Tiger apart, there’s a lot of golf going on. Tommy Fleetwood, Rory McIlroy and co are playing in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic and there are a load of women taking to the fairways to start their season in the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic at the Ocean Club Golf Course in Paradise Island, Bahamas. The LPGA’s new advertising campaign is called “A Global Tour Like No Other” and bills the players, from 32 countries, as ” the most accessible athletes in sport”. One day, perhaps, the message will get through: golf is a game for everyone, everywhere.