Golf is healthier as a sport for Tiger Woods’ prolonged absence over recent years. Despite a dip in TV ratings, bona fide new stars have emerged to carry the game forward. Increasingly, these top players are recognisable simply by their first names – Rory, Jordan, Dustin, Jason, Rickie, Hideki and a couple of Justins.
All of which makes 2018 the most interesting year in decades for golf enthusiasts as to what might transpire. Woods’ return to tournament golf after an apparently successful spinal fusion operation has captivated golf and world sport. Woods says he is pain-free for the first time in years.
However, it’s just shy of 10 years since Tiger won his last Major at the 2008 US Open when he overcame a broken leg and busted knee to beat Rocco Mediate in a playoff at Torrey Pines. Given everything he’s been through, could it be possible Woods may step closer to matching Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 Major titles?
For that to happen, he would need to find a new way to win at an age when golfers are well past their peak. When Woods’ body ailments first came to the fore, I asked golf-specific physiotherapist Ramsay McMaster for his opinion on how the 14-time Major champion could defy Father Time.
The late McMaster, who pioneered strength and conditioning programs in many countries, remarked that Woods needed to adopt a more ‘cerebral’ approach to his golf. By that he meant Woods could no longer rely upon the demanding power game that had put so much stress on his body.
It seems Woods has gone down the path of acquiring an efficient swing that will enable him to outthink rather than overpower a younger and healthier fleet of aspirants. In this issue’s cover story we analyse his fifth swing incarnation.
Woods’ new swing is a work in progress as evidenced by hitting just 17 of 56 fairways at the Farmers Insurance Open to rank last in driving accuracy for the week. But therein lies a silver lining. Finishing T-23 in his first official tournament in 12 months despite driving the ball poorly shows there is much room for improvement.
If Woods finds consistency with the driver, heaven help the opposition. And some of today’s young stars may one day rue their temerity to wish Tiger a full return to top form.
At the 2016 Ryder Cup, American players honoured Woods with a contrived tribute at a team meeting at Hazeltine. The players – wearing red, white & blue ‘onesies’ – unzipped their garments to reveal T-shirts emblazoned with the words ‘Make Tiger Great Again’.
Woods enjoyed the gesture, saying it was an awesome display of team bonding and for the players to acknowledge his time out of the game.
No doubt Phil Mickelson and Ernie Els would caution these young guns to ‘Be careful what you wish for’. Having been on the receiving end of numerous Woods whippings, they know better than most that “a wounded Tiger is a dangerous beast”.