‘Here was a Swooshed up kid kicking every preconceived notion we had about the game of golf into the kerb’
Tiger Woods and I don’t have too much in common – other than a dodgy back and a slightly receding hairline – but our arrival into the world of golf coincided during the mid-90s. Tiger’s entrance, I have to say, was somewhat more dramatic and heralded than mine. While I was sitting in a tiny office fact checking copy, Tiger whistled his opening drive on his pro debut 336 yards down the middle of the fairway at the 1996 Greater Milwaukee Open to a cacophonous reception.
The crowd that cocooned Woods on the first tee that day was of a size and diversity we had never witnessed before at a regular PGA Tour event. The whole world, it seemed, had turned up to see how the young kid with a $125 million Nike deal would mix it in the paid ranks with a bunch of seasoned, middle-aged Tour pros. Demonstrating his penchant for delivering on the big stage, Tiger made a hole-in-one in the final round.
If you were around golf at that time, you’ll no doubt remember the sheer level of excitement the young Tiger brought to a game that, while not exactly struggling, lacked sizzle. Golfers, we were told, peaked while wearing Pringle sweaters in their late 30s, but here was a Swooshed up kid taking the game by the scruff of its neck and kicking every preconceived notion we had about it into the kerb. Woods claimed the Masters title the following season and continued to win at a phenomenal rate in dramatic fashion.
We rode that wave of euphoria for the best part of 15 years before Woods hit the self-destruct button back in 2009. The road back to full fitness – physically and psychologically – has been arduous and full of false dawns, but it does look like we’re finally seeing something close to the real Tiger again.
The buzz is certainly back. At the recent Valspar Championship in Florida, where Woods came this close to winning, the final-round TV rating was the highest non-major audience since the 2013 Players Championship. The third round audience was 181% up against previous season’s event.
The biggest test of Tiger’s recovery comes at Augusta National, a course that will expose your most miniscule weakness. If Tiger’s game can withstand that inspection, we could be about to witness one of the greatest comebacks sport has ever seen.
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