Why golf, indeed sport, needs Tiger Woods
It doesn’t make any sense, this excitement about Tiger Woods’ latest return to competitive golf.
It has been eight years since his infidelity was exposed, sending his career into a tailspin. It has been just under a decade since he last won a major. It has been four years since he last won anything. It has been two years since his last top 10 finish.
He has undergone multiple surgeries—the last of which left him unable to swing a club for six months. Unsurprisingly, the headlines surrounding his comebacks have been more “his back” than “he’s back”.
He last made the news for overmedicating himself, and the police photograph from the incident—face swollen, eyes glazed over—was the starkest reminder of how far his star had fallen. At that moment, the odds of him even making a comeback, forget winning anything again, seemed very, very long.
Despite all this, it was hard not to feel the buzz as he played four rounds at the Hero World Challenge in Albany in the Bahamas over the weekend. Three of those rounds were solid—he didn’t struggle physically, he hit the ball farther than he had in a while, and long birdie and eagle putts kept dropping in, bringing back memories of better times.
Yes, this was only a glorified exhibition event, but in terms of what lies ahead, this was more than just promising. “I don’t know what my schedule is going to be but my expectations are we’ll be playing next year,” Woods said after shooting a 68 on Sunday.
“We’re going to figure out what’s the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships.”
This is great news, not just for his fans but for the sport itself, which desperately needs a competitive Woods out on the greens. No individual is bigger than the sport he/she plays, but Woods comes close.
TV ratings drop when he’s not playing, shoot up when he is, and go off the charts when he’s playing well. Speaking ahead of the Albany event, Golf Channel executive producer Molly Solomon told Reuters that she expected Woods’ presence to boost the network’s ratings by as much as 40%. Few athletes wield such influence—Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt...the list is as short as it is special.
The chances of the Tiger Woods story having a happy ending are extremely remote. This comeback too might end like the last few—the field is much stronger than it was when he dominated the landscape for a decade, and you shouldn’t put your hard-earned money on his back holding up for an entire season.
However, Woods does seem fit, focused and hungry for the first time in a long time, and what that means is that it’s time to put all logic aside and start getting excited again. All it needs, after all, is for things to go his way over four days—is that too much to ask for?
In 2017, Roger Federer showed age and logic could be defied, winning two tennis Grand Slams when all reason suggested he would never add to his majors tally. How awesome would it be if 2018 turned out to be the year of Tiger?
Deepak Narayanan, a journalist for nearly 20 years, now runs an events space, House No. 248, in Goa. He tweets at @deepakyen