Once upon a time Tiger Woods and Roger Federer were the poster boys for Gillette. Supposedly they would exchange texts, rib each other about who had won more majors and generally have a right old chuckle at each other’s expense.
At the weekend Federer, now 36 and said to be a bit less pally with TW these days, defended his Australian Open title and picked up his 20th Grand Slam. Gillette and Federer might have parted but there are still 11 major sponsors on his website and he’s the clear favourite to win Wimbledon yet again. Life is good for the Swiss maestro.
Tiger’s Sunday was quite different. The 42-year-old was making his first cut in a PGA Tour event since August 2015. In the interim there have been two starts in his own event in the Bahamas, a blank weekend at Torrey Pines last year and one round in Dubai before injury intervened. Off the course there has been a whole lot of pain, misery, embarrassment, hints he may never play again before, more recently, some brighter signs that his back, now fused, can withstand more and create more power.
His sponsor count, by the way, stands at nine.
And yet, despite having played so little golf and the never-ending call for some patience and more reps, we still can’t wait to dissect every last drop of his efforts at Torrey Pines. We can’t wait to talk up his chances – he has won 14 times over the courses going back to his junior days we repeat ad infinitum – before putting the boot in at the first opportunity.
From the week just gone we have now concluded that his driving, which was fairly outstanding in the Bahamas two months ago, has gone. In the final round of the Hero he hit 13 of 14 fairways and his one miss was just a couple of yards off the short stuff.
Fast forward to California and he wasn’t even coming close to the fairways. Woods hit nine of them, just three a day, over the last three rounds, 17 out of 56 in total, and spent much of his time slashing out recoveries from the rough – 62 per cent from the right rough and 37 from the left.
But, seeing as he was in the rough, we may as well draw a few more conclusions and this brought some good news. Given the lack of any thick stuff in the Bahamas or Florida at this time of year Woods reckoned that he hadn’t hit a shot from any proper rough for a year and the body felt good when called upon. What he wouldn’t have reckoned upon was how often he would have to keep doing it.
Interestingly he switched drivers in the interim, from his old M2 to the new M3, but you might be hard pressed to suggest that this was anything to do with a shift in technology. The swing was often out of sequence, so the commentators told us, but the head and body were holding up.
Where would he have been without a short game that everyone agreed was A+?
“It would have been snowing,” explained Woods meaning his score would have been up in the 80s on day three. As it was he shot 72-71-70-72 for a share of 23rd.
We all whispered that his chipping was still a concern down in the Bahamas despite all the players telling us it was grainy and that the surrounds were so uneven.
Yet here he were concluding that it was now just fine and maybe his greatest asset. Even his playing partner from Saturday, Brandt Snedeker, couldn’t help himself.
“His short game is probably as good or better than I ever remember it being,” said Snedeker after Woods got it up and down seven out of nine times.
Love him, loathe him or feel indifferent to him we can’t get enough, can we? We are currently spoilt by a quite brilliant collection of players at the very top table but you could put them all together, in consecutive groups, and we’d all still be sat there, mobile in one hand and remote in the other, fast forwarding to Tiger’s current ‘release patterns’ and where he might be in the ‘process’.
What quick-and-easy conclusions would we be making had his ball not skipped past the bunker and he hadn’t made a birdie to make the cut on Friday?
As it is we got two more rounds to pore over and gorge on which means we can get carried away by the prospect that if he can sort his driving out, knock off the to-be-expected rust, hit his iron shots a bit more adjacent, roll in a few and keep up the good work with the wedges then there really is no reason why he can’t compete again.
There’s nothing wrong with the bit upstairs if we choose to overlook the fact that his last win came in 2013.
We all came away from that US Open at Torrey Pines thinking he would easily surpass Jack Nicklaus’ 18 big ones. Well that was in 2008, since then there have been nine top-six finishes in the majors – one of which was when YE Yang broke Tiger’s magic spell of never losing a third-round lead – but we’re still happy to convince ourselves that the mind will be ready should the body be able to perform at a level that it hasn’t for four years.
Yet until he hangs up his clubs for good there probably won’t come a day when most of us don’t think ahead to that possible Nicklaus swansong where Jack took them all down at Augusta at the age of 46.
Such grand careers deserve the big finish. Federer might have just had his, who knows?
Remember when we used to talk about how Tiger had never come from behind to win a major? Maybe that’s how he’ll do it, maybe that will be the final twist in the Woods book.
Maybe, maybe, maybe.
We do it all again at Riviera in a couple of weeks.