We are back in Tiger’s world once more, it seems, following Sunday night’s drama at East Lake and there are not many within the game of golf who would bemoan that fact.
Certainly not the executives at NBC and Sky Sports who cannot believe their luck that the sport’s number one box office attraction is back in the winners’ circle just in time for golf’s greatest TV-watching experience.
Golf lovers in Europe and the United States were always likely to turn on to these 42nd Ryder Cup matches on Friday morning for the opening fourball session and stay plonked in front of their flat-screen televisions pretty much until Sunday evening. A Ryder Cup is just the sort of compelling sports event to keep viewers engrossed for its duration.
Throw in the game’s greatest exponent of the last 20 years, if not of all time, and you get an athlete and man who has that rare capacity to transcend his sport. Tiger is not just back to fitness and form, but he has been redeemed. The viewing figures – not just in the armchairs and bar stools of Europe, nor the La-Z-Boys recliners of the States – are sure to go through the roof.
When Tiger is back in business, as he was to win the Tour Championship on Sunday, the whole world stops to take a peek.
It’s been building for some time, ever since he returned full-time to the sport at the start of the season, his once-fragile body finally ready for the rigours of a competitive season after four years of stop-start action in the midst of serious back injuries.
And everywhere Woods went, the galleries were sure to follow, just as they will this week at Le Golf National when the man of the hour will try his best to become just another member of Team USA as Jim Furyk’s Americans bid to defend the trophy they won without Tiger two years ago on home soil at Hazeltine National.
Woods was a 40-year-old cheerleader back then, one of Davis Love’s vice-captains, a role for which he was earmarked by Furyk as recently as February.
That’s right, just seven months ago, no-one was really very sure, including the man himself, what state his body would be in come September.
Now here we are with Furyk happily dispensing with an assistant and gaining a captain’s pick capable of defeating Europeans before he’s even struck a tee shot. At least that is what the Americans are hoping.
Just like Woods’ back following that fourth operation last year, we really don’t have an iota of an idea how this Ryder Cup week is going to pan out.
For as brilliantly dominant as Woods was in winning 14 major championships between 1997 and 2008, he really hasn’t replicated that for his country at the Ryder Cup.
Seven appearances, the most recent of which was at Medinah in 2012, have seen Tiger finish on the winning side just once, at Brookline in 1999.
His 33 matches have produced just 13 wins and three halves with 17 defeats. if you need further analysis, his singles record of four wins, one defeat and two halves is the only positive aspect of his contribution.
Fourballs and foursomes? Forget it. Woods is four wins, eight defeats and one half in the former and 5-8-0 in the latter. You don’t have to read between the lines to glean from those stats that having Tiger as a team player just didn’t work. His dominance shook the confidence of team-mates as much as opponents.
But this is new ground. This is Tiger 2.0 and the jury must remain out as to his impact on the team dynamic in Furyk’s 2018 team room. Reports from the 2016 camp suggest Woods became the selfless team man on Love’s backroom staff, far removed from the isolated figure he made himself on Tour during his heyday.
Tiger 2.0 is visibly different on the course, high-fiving fans, smiling and waving to galleries and engaging with the media, offering more than just the glib answers they had become used to for more than a decade.
In Woods’s absence on the treatment table, Team USA got its Ryder Cup act together and the results were evident from the camaraderie shown at Hazeltine in 2016 when Davis Love III engineered a 17-11 hammering of Darren Clarke’s Europe.
Judging by the reception committee of fellow Americans who greeted him at the back of 18 green at East Lake on Sunday, many of whom would be joining Woods on a team jet to Paris that night, this is very much still a unified Team USA and Tiger is all in.