o paraphrase Winston Churchill, Tiger Woods is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma. He is about to turn 41 and has not won a major in over eight years. When last seen on a golf course 16 months ago, he was unrecognisable from the player of old, unsure of either his ability to find a fairway off the tee, hit a crisply struck chip shot or hole a six-foot putt. Since then, he’s had not one, but two major back operations in what now amounts to a long and complex list of invasive surgeries.
Last month, he withdrew from the Safeway Open citing a vulnerable game, adding a sizeable cairn to the mountain of doubt surrounding his golfing future. He launched his new brand, TGR, ushering in what he described as ‘chapter two’ of his life off the golf course. Could we perhaps now finally get some closure on golf’s most captivating figure and move on?
Evidently not. Less than a week later, Woods was telling talk show host Charlie Rose that he still believes he’ll pass Jack Nicklaus’s tally of 18 major championships. Jesper Parnevik reported that he’s hitting it like ‘the Tiger of old’ on the range, and preposterous thoughts amounting to what would surely be the greatest comeback in all of sport now inhabit the minds of otherwise sane and logical observers.
This is as much about us as it is about Woods. As Charlie Rose put it, ‘we can’t let you go. We want to see you [dominate] one more time. And that’s reflected in the TV ratings’.
It is human nature to pine for lost greatness. Often the best stories in sport centre on a former legend rolling back the years and performing an inspired encore, from Jack Nicklaus at the Masters in 1986 to Muhammad Ali’s with George Foreman. Does Woods’ story contain one last, unlikely chapter?
Woods appears to have mellowed considerably in the last few years, granting more sit-down interviews and speaking far more expansively than he ever did during his long reign as golf’s World No.1. Many of his declarations contradict one another, from an admission that everything he achieves past this point ‘will be gravy’ to reaffirming his belief that he will win more than 18 majors.
Tiger Woods, who has had seven surgeries and was last seen fighting a case of the chipping yips (not to mention a crooked driver) needs to condense the major championship career of Phil Mickelson into however long he has left until either age or injury prompt his retirement. Woods’ last major came at the 2008 U.S. Open, against Rocco Mediate. Now he’s got to beat the likes of Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, all of whom hit the ball farther, and with more accuracy, than he does. Winning even one more major appears fanciful, catching Jack the very height of delusion. But one thing is certain. If Woods really does tee it up at his Hero World Challenge next month, the world will be watching.