Tiger Woods, I’m told, are two words that will get your blog rushing to the top of the hit parade but it’s more than likely that you’ll get crushed in the stampede, swamped and washed away, or whatever. Still, the man who was the indisputable world No 1 for so many years and looked as though he was certain to sweep past Jack Nicklaus’s total of 18 major championships with contemptuous ease is back in competition after an absence of 16 months and deserves at least a mention in any blog connected with golf. So, there you have it.
The women, those female persons who have the temerity to think that golf is a game for them – no heavy lifting for a start – have, very sensibly, had a bit of a winter break and are now back in action in a serious, world-class way at the Pure Silk-Bahamas LPGA Classic at the Ocean Golf Course on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. How idyllic does that sound to those of us looking out at grey, freezing foggy conditions? And we’re then bombarded with pictures of sun, sea that runs through a whole pallet of blues and greens and, of course, sand. Oh, and players in shorts and no sleeves hitting wonderful shots to pristine greens. Though Brittany Lincicome, the early leader, who had a 9-under par 64, wore long sleeves in what looked like breezy conditions and would have got a nod of approval from my dog-walking dermatologist.
Ariya Jutanugarn, the world No 2 from Thailand, is the highest ranked player in the absence of world No 1 Lydia Ko and she, Lexi Thompson and Brooke Henderson are worth crossing oceans to watch. Stephanie Meadow, the Northern Irishwoman who played for the University of Alabama, finished third in the US Women’s Open at Pinehurst on her professional debut and represented Ireland at the Olympics in Rio, is not in that league yet but she’s been enjoying her time in the Bahamas. She tweeted that she’d been accosted, in the nicest possible way, by a couple of Canadians, snow birds following the sun, who mistook her for Henderson. The Ulster and Canadian accents are not dissimilar, just listen carefully to the vowel sounds!
It’s a Solheim Cup year – hooray – so even the eligible players who say that they’re not thinking ahead to Des Moines in Iowa in August (18-20) know that they are. It’s where any player with a competitive bone in her body (i.e. all of them), wants to be and Annika Sorenstam, Europe’s captain and Juli Inkster, captain of the United States, are on the case. Inkster, who was in charge when the USA won in Germany two years ago, is playing in the Bahamas and Annika, whose captain’s blog (beam me up) is already on its sixth edition, has been getting her Florida-based Euros together at Lake Nona. They’ve been laughing, chatting, admiring rings (Suzann Pettersen got married earlier this month and Pernilla Lindberg is engaged – congratulations to them both, wishing them every happiness), eating paella cooked by vice-captain Marta Figueras-Dotti and playing games, golf games, that are fun but have a serious competitive edge.
Annika is a numbers nerd and a meticulous monitor of the minutiae and if she can cope with the less obsessive, more freewheeling members of her team and keep them happy too, Europe should give the Americans a real fright in their heartland. Whether the visitors can win away in the USA for only the second time depends on things that go beyond the most detailed preparations. Germany two years ago is a classic example of things spiralling off in an unanticipated direction and requiring cool, clear-headed thinking in a swirling, bubbling, competitive cauldron. What’s the old saw? Heart in the oven, head in the fridge? Even so, as a captain, I’d take everything that’s thrown my way in exchange for 12 players playing well and putting like Bobby Locke (younger readers, if there are any, should look him up but rest assured the man could hole putts when it mattered). Bring it on!
By the way, Tiger hit a tree with his opening drive at Torrey Pines but we’re eight hours behind California (though who knows, that may change now that Donald is president and whizzing through his “to do” list) so I didn’t stay up to see how he finished and it could have been anything. It’s sport after all and the only predictable thing is its unpredictability. Hull City 2 Man Utd 1 anyone? Or Liverpool 0 Southampton 1. Or Liverpool 2 Swansea 3.
P.S. If Rory wants to persuade Tiger to pitch up at the DDF Irish Open at Portstewart in July (6-9), he can assure the great man that there are no trees on one of the world’s best links courses and when you stand on the first tee, arguably the most scenic anywhere, there isn’t a tree to be seen. Mind you, there is a beach, made famous by the Game of Thrones and it is, I believe, out of bounds.