I must be the only person in golf who is actually happy that we have to take a pause this week from the newest contender for The Greatest Golf Story Ever told.
To be honest, in recent weeks I’ve feared for the well being of some of my friends and contemporaries. Perspective, restraint, and senses have been left scattered across the airwaves, social media, and indeed the very ground on which the Great Man walks.
I speak of Tiger Woods, of course. On Sunday night, in his trademark red (you know my opinion on that) he got within five shots of the lead at the Honda Classic, his fourth comeback event. I still don’t count the Hero World Challenge and never will.
Anyway, hysteria everywhere. One of my very good friends suggested I was not a proper golf fan because I wasn’t watching Tiger trying very hard to finish tenth.
I have dipped in and out of Tiger’s comeback with a dispassionate eye these last two months, partly because there’s bigger fish to fry at this time of year for the sometime rugby correspondent.
But every time I do switch on the TV to see how he’s doing – and you can turn on at any time and he’ll be on screen it seems, no matter who is actually leading the tournament – all I see is a strike, a bowed head, and arm stretching out wide to the right (mostly) and the clunk or splash of golf ball heading where it shouldn’t be.
On Sunday I spent a day trying to square Scotland’s ludicrous extremes of form in the 6 Nations but, after watching social media go a bit crazy, I turned on to see Tiger rinse his ball at the 15th. Bad timing.
Okay, let’s stop being flippant. I get that Tiger pushes the needle more than anyone else. I get that the bar of expectation was so low for him that anything he does above competency is worth celebrating.
We celebrate that he’s a whole lot better than any of us had any right to expect him to be. The driver’s a bit iffy (it had been for a long time) and consistency is a bit wanting, but that’ll come with more tournaments.
But by and large, he’s been amazing for someone who has been out of the game for so long. And I love the new sense of reality and perspective from him personally.
The Superman Schtick has gone. He’s a whole lot more likeable than he’s ever been. There are exceptions – his intention to both play and vice-captain for Jim Furyk in the Ryder Cup is silly bluster, almost as if he’s trying to out do Phil Mickelson. He’ll do one or the other.
This week, of course, is the first of the two pre-Masters WGCs, the Mexico Championship, and Tiger is eligible neither for this nor the Matchplay in Austin in a few weeks’ time.
He is only set to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational between now and Augusta, and that’s clearly not going to be enough.
Fatigue doesn’t seem an issue and Tiger’s body is strong, so he should add both the Valspar Invitational and the Houston Open, although the latter is the week before the Masters and he famously never plays the week prior to a major.
This is merely, of course, to have himself in the very best shape going into Augusta. I still don’t think he wins there – this year, although it’s certainly the most likely place for him to add to his major collection if he’s going to.
But does he win somewhere? To me, Tiger’s comeback so far – rather amusingly – is similar to talented amateurs when they first come out on tour. Some wonderful scoring, but too many doubles and triples; it usually takes a while for guys used to shooting for the flags to realise they play differently in the pros.
For Woods, it’s taking a little time for him to realise he can’t hit the lights out of every ball the way he used to. Once he starts to play within himself – I don’t necessarily mean conservatively, I mean playing with what he is capable of now – then he may find that consistency.
Personally, I think if he wins just one more major after all that has happened in the last decade, then it’s the second greatest comeback in the history of golf. Nothing will ever beat Hogan after the car crash.
The battle has been joined
We still don’t have the much trumpeted new data which is prompting the R&A and USGA to do a complete about-face on driving distance, but I’m assured its publication is imminent.
No matter, everyone knows it’s going to show a sharp spike and battle lines are quickly being drawn for the debate about a reined-in ball.
Last week Jack Nicklaus, long an advocate of this measure, revealed he was primed for the forthcoming debate by Mike Davis, executive director of the USGA. Wally Uihlein, the big boss of ball giant Titleist, has already put out a few counter arguments.
Bring on the debate. While my own view has long been put in this column, it’s not a black and white issue. I want to hear some good reasons for no change.
And I want them presented in a manner that is argued rationally without fear or favour.
Unlike the column advocating no change in an online magazine this week which, when opened, popped up a large banner advert for…Titleist.