The Master back at The Masters: Woods win at Augusta would cap-off an unrivalled comeback
Once the darling of world golf, Tiger Woods returns to the 82nd Masters this week after a three year absence and a plethora of injury problems. Gregor Kerr discusses what a win for Woods this weekend would mean for the sport and the effect a full comeback would have.
For a few years, it seems that golf has lacked it’s own superstar to take the sport to another level. While the game is as competitive as ever within the majors, it lacks a Lewis Hamilton figure, a Lionel Messi or a Michael Jordan. Somebody to elevate the sport to a new level, to attract fans old and new, adding a prestige to the game and putting it at the front of all sporting conversations. It once did, and the signs are that they will soon again. That figure is a certain Tiger Woods.
Woods is arguably the most dominant sportsman in history, never mind just being restricted to golf. With 14 major wins under his belt, the golfing world will have their eyes firmly locked on to Augusta National this week to see if he can claim number 15, ten years after his last major win, the U.S. Open in 2008.
Given how long since he has been both active and at the peak of his game, it is almost easy to forget the dominance that Tiger once established, particularly for younger fans who may not be familiar with his form in the early 2000s. The fear over 15 years ago was that PGA tournaments were becoming a race for 2nd place, given that the 4-time Masters winner appeared likely to stroll any tournament that he walked into, the result was the introduction of “Tiger-proofing” on golf courses. Due to the power and distance in his driving game, many courses around the world sought to extend the length of fairways in order to increase the competition. Not that it’s been needed in recent times.
That’s why it is such an exciting time to see the former world number one not only fit but reaching even a glimpse of the kind of form he will always be remembered for. With the best part of two years on the sideline and failing to register a top ten major finish since 2013, many doubted the likelihood of Tiger ever reaching his best form again, and who was to argue with them? Some doubted he would ever strike a golf ball again in anger, never mind for the famous green jacket.
But in his return to action at the turn of the year, Woods finished at 8 under and tied for 9th at the Hero World Championship in the Bahamas, a promising return to action, but doubts still remained whether it was a quick flash-in-the-pan.
At the Vaspar Championship in Florida last month though, he went a step even further, finishing 2nd and just a shot behind winner Paul Casey. A week later he tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. His world ranking jumped up to 149th. Just months before that, he sat over 1000 places behind at 1,199th. It’s no wonder the hype has begun to surround him again.
Not only can his return help to attract fans both old and new, it can raise the game of those around him, as former world number one Jason Day said this week: “ I think a lot of people quickly forgot what he had accomplished in his career as he got injured and he was out for a while,” said Day, a close friend of Woods. “That’s just golf and that’s just life. Everyone lives fast now. Everyone wants instant gratification. That’s just how the world works.”
“Now that he’s back and he looks kind of where he was before, or he potentially can be, I think everyone’s getting that taste back. I think everyone’s kind of chomping at the bit to see what he can accomplish.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise if Woods himself was as inspiration to Day in his amateur career, as is the same with many of the players on tour. Many of them will be just as excited at his return as fans are. Some of their earliest memories, as Woods stated in his press conference this week, are his early major wins, most notably his win at this exact tournament in 1997, becoming the youngest ever winner aged 21 and recording the record lowest score of 18 under. What his fans would do for a piece of that Tiger this week.
At the press conference, Woods himself was well aware that he would have to roll back the years if he was to grab his 15th major yet stated the importance his experience can play in the next few days: “I really hope I’m playing my best golf. This is a tournament I think that where experience does help a lot.”, he said.
“I mean, I have played here, and I’ve won here not playing my absolute best, but there’s got to be a certain part of my game that’s on. I think that this tournament really helps with having the experience and really understanding how to play this particular golf course.”
He has already stated this his repeatedly-injured back, and general health, is in its best condition for around eight years. While we can never be entirely sure that another re-occurrence of his back woes will stay away in the near future, it’s another promising sign that his comeback is on the right track. In this week’s practice round, he reportedly shot a 59, as well as smashing a 507-yard drive, and knows his way around Augusta as well as anybody.
A few months ago, a Masters win for Woods appeared a pipe-dream; now it looks like a real possibility if recent performances are anything to go by. It could be interesting viewing seeing him going up against the likes of Jordan Speith, Justin Thomas and other recent breakthrough stars for one of the first times at a major. He has a lot of catching up to do if he wants to overtake them again, but ability never disappears. His return mixed with the form of others, such as Dustin Johnson whose untimely slip last year cost him a chance for glory, and Rory McIlroy who chases the one title standing between him and a career grand slam, means that this year’s Masters is one of the most mouth-watering for some time.
A 5th green jacket for Tiger Woods would cap off years of personal and professional pain for one of the game’s great names. It would reverberate around sport as one of the great comebacks in living memory should he oversee the other 86 competitors, as big an ask that may seem.
Whatever the end-result for Woods on Sunday night, it’s good to have Golf’s true master back at The Masters.