Why we still need to talk about Tiger
Some of you, I am aware, think we talk too much about Tiger Woods, especially given that he didn’t complete a single 72-hole, full-field event in the whole of 2017.
Without getting post-modern on you, let me acknowledge immediately that this is already happening again – you are now two paragraphs into reading yet another feature about the great man.
There is genuine hope, though, that it will be a different story next year and I am not going to apologise for being unable to suppress my own excitement and anticipation at that prospect.
My colleagues here at NCG feel the same – as you’ll know from reading, for example, Mark Townsend’s entertaining feature on what he was doing when Tiger made his latest Bahamas comeback.
Tiger is by any standards a sporting great and they don’t come around very often. Let alone in your sport of choice. On top of it all, it just so happens that the Tiger Era coincides with my own as a golf writer and, above all, golf fan.
In fact, Tiger and I were born on the same day. Weird, I know. Insert your gag of choice here.
When Tiger was in his prime, he played a very limited schedule when compared to his peers. The significance of this and that tournament on the schedule wasn’t decided by the number of world ranking points or the size of the purse on offer. Either Tiger was playing, in which case it mattered, or he wasn’t, in which case it was ever-second-rate.
I’m not sure all that much has changed, some 20 years on.
Any event that features a fit Tiger Woods is significantly more compelling. And he continues to cast a shadow by his absence.
Tiger wasn’t just a contender every time he teed it up in his prime – he was the red-hot favourite. With the greatest of respect, none of Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson or Jason Day have come near to that level of superiority over their peers. Nor would they claim to.
At his best, Tiger was odds-on to win majors before a ball had been struck – just take a moment to think about that when you are talking about fields of at least 90 (in the Masters) and 150 or so in the other three majors.
The bookies were in effect saying that he had more chance of winning than the rest of the field put together.
And this isn’t a knockout situation where you only need to beat six or seven opponents to lift the trophy – in golf strokeplay you have to shoot a lower score than everyone else.
Tiger played the game at a higher level, for a sustained period, than just about anyone in the game’s history. With a highly respectful nod to Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Bobby Jones.
While there remains the chance that we have not yet seen the last of him as a force in the majors, I make no apology for us charting his progress very closely indeed.
If you’re anything like me, your brain will already be flashing forward to the second weekend in April and the Masters.
I try to stop myself doing it too often, at least until March, but it’s as futile as telling my seven-year-old to stop wishing his life away when he says he just can’t wait for it to be Christmas Day.
Imagine what we will all be like should Tiger arrive in Georgia not just with his latest – and probably final – comeback still intact but actually in form.
What if he has contended over the West Coast and Florida swings? What if he has a win under his belt?
What if he starts staring down the various upstarts currently occupying the top spots in the world rankings and puts on an Augusta masterclass?
What if he gives the 20-somethings, teenagers and children a taste of what we more mature golf fans got to experience on a regular basis at the same age. We thought it would never end, but of course everything does.
Perhaps not just yet though. What if, like Jack in 1986, there is still an exclamation mark to add to the glorious story of his career to date?
That delicious prospect, dear reader, is why we continue to chart Tiger’s progress so closely. And why I for one will not be apologising for it.
Come on, Tiger (and many happy returns for next week, birthday twin. Ahem).