herald

Thursday 16 August 2018

Insults add to Tiger armour

EVERY so often sport gives us something that has to be kept forever: Ali in Kinshasa, Maradona in Mexico, Federer at Wimbledon. Now there is the possibility of a gift which was first offered up to immortality 15 years ago amid the dogwoods and the magnolia of Augusta.

It is the prospect of once more seeing the real Tiger Woods, the one who in 1997, at the age of 21, did more than win his first Green Jacket and major.

He pushed back the boundaries not just of golf but any number of racial stereotypes and prejudices operating in country-club America, he created a game which made its organisers rush to re-shape courses which suddenly looked so vulnerable they might have been so many local pitch-and-putt tracks.

You may say that the barrenness of his game, and apparently so much of his life, since he was enveloped in scandal more than two years ago, makes the evocation of such glory somewhat premature on the basis of his first tournament win since then at Arnold Palmer's Bay Hill in Florida at the weekend.

Maybe, but then maybe not because one of the things about seeing greatness in sport, watching its effect on all those around the author of it, is that it is so different to the normal run of winning and losing.

It is something that goes into your bones so that the prospect of it returning -- especially in golf -- is never quite abandoned, as we realised when Jack Nicklaus made his last serious move in Augusta and not so long ago Tom Watson threatened to turn the sports world on its head at Turnberry.



Authority

You don't think it prudent to entertain such ideas when Tiger returns to Georgia next week with the refurbished status of not just a winner but one displaying more than a little of his old authority? But then maybe you didn't give Ali the longest shot when he took on the ogre George Foreman in 1974 or Nicklaus when he won his last major at the age of 46 or Kauto Star when he became the first old champion to win back the Gold Cup.

Of course it is true that if the Tiger does reproduce at Augusta the sureness of his touch in Florida he will not return with all the trappings that greeted his arrival all those years ago.

Right up to this week's publication of the character assassination penned by his former coach Hank Haney -- with whom he won six major titles before his sacking in 2010 -- the attacks on Woods's character have been quite relentless.

"Petty" and "selfish" have been some of the milder descriptions.

Ernie Els once confessed that a whole generation of golf had been browbeaten into defeat but such deference has, we are told, disappeared with the emergence of Rory McIlroy and a clutch of new names at the top of the world rankings.

Yet who among the latest breed will go to bed over the next few days without some fleeting apprehension that maybe the Tiger is stalking their hopes as he did those of so many of the players who went before?

It is a possibility that brings unprecedented intrigue to the Augusta battleground, along with the suspicion that over the last few years Woods has stored up the insults that have come with the tide of opinion that the five more major titles he needs to surpass Nicklaus's record mark of 18 have slipped beyond his remaining powers.

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