What can I add to the noise around Tiger Woods’ comeback? Not a lot. So let’s listen instead to what Tiger’s modern-day peers are saying about him.
It is a flood of gratitude, of respect, of reverence, of encouragement, of hope that he will return and compete with them. They want him back.
These days the fans and the evil media are split – yes, there are those that still love him.
But there are an equal number bored of his comebacks, sick of the column inches devoted to his every move, sneering and judgmental about his often unpalatable off-course issues.
His fellow pros give him the benefit of the doubt. If you listen long enough it sounds like they would step aside and let him win this weekend.
Rickie Fowler has been telling us how far Tiger has been hitting it.
“He looked effortless, he looked free, he had some power,” says Brad Faxon, who played with him last week.
Meanwhile, Patrick Reed – remember him? – said this: “If he stays healthy and his body co-operates the way it’s supposed to, he’ll be back to playing golf, hopefully like he used to play.”
The notoriously almost friendless competitor added: “He had pep in his step. He was in high spirits. I was shocked how fluid his swing was and how far the ball was going. He had some speed behind it. He’s always been a little longer than me, but some of those drives today, he got it out there. He was hitting the stinger here and there, hitting bunker shots, hitting balls out of the rough. There just wasn’t any hesitation in his body to hit those shots. That’s key. If he stays healthy, we’ll see Tiger again.”
This is not a cold-hearted assessment of a rival, who you know you can beat on your day, this is a love letter. He got a kick out of watching Tiger play. This is from the self-styled “top-five player in the world” not known for his respect for rivals.
Listen to Justin Thomas talk about Tiger. It gives me goose bumps. The affection, the awe, pours out of him.
Woods’ early career drove him on, inspired him to play, influenced his mannerism, his attitude. His whole shtick is down to Woods. Thomas’s desire to compete with his hero is almost oedipal – he wants to beat his maker.
Yes, these players know the difference he still makes to viewers and the game’s marketability but more than that they grew up inspired by his genius. They grew up wanting to compete with him. They grew up wanting to be good enough to beat him.
To a point, he turns them all into fan boys, just like the rest of us.
For Woods, there is a precedent for one last hurrah.
Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Johnny Miler all had – admittedly truncated – second careers.
One last trip to the top in the evening of their competitive eras, the last flickers of genius carrying ailing, ageing games to the very top.
We are talking about a man in his 21st year at the top. Woods saw off Nick Faldo, Greg Norman and Seve Ballesteros, he diminished the careers of Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson, he denied countless others majors through the 1990s and 2000s.
Now there is just the faintest hope he can crush the millennial golfing generation he created.
It might not happen, it probably won’t happen, but even writing it is making me tingle.
Like his peers, I want to watch Tiger go toe to toe with today’s current crop. I want to see a red-shirted Tiger facing down JT, or Spieth, or DJ, or Rory or anyone on Sunday at Augusta.
It would be a victory for genius, as well as for the middle-aged clinging on to the last vestiges of youth. It would be a second coming, a resurrection to rival anything sport has ever offered.