x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Masters storylines all share the same theme

It is a good thing sport offers up such convenient narratives of redemptions, otherwise we would all have gone mad.

Rory McIlroy walked off the 11th hole after a bogey during the final round of the Masters in the midst of a huge meltdown. He returns to Augusta looking for some payback.
Rory McIlroy walked off the 11th hole after a bogey during the final round of the Masters in the midst of a huge meltdown. He returns to Augusta looking for some payback.

It is a good thing sport offers up such convenient narratives of redemptions, otherwise we would all have gone mad.

Life never brings such neatness to its work. And nothing makes sport, any sport, more compelling to watch than when athletes come in looking for a second chance, an opportunity to begin afresh, to shake off the old and bring in the new.

That is why from Thursday until Sunday, many in this world who are not interested - or only casually so - in golf will be tuning in to Augusta, mostly at unreasonable hours.

They will follow the progress of Tiger Woods because this tournament, known otherwise as the Masters, is for now known as The Official Moment of the Return of Woods. Should he win, it will birth - or rebirth - an entire industry; books, films, merchandise, sponsorships. Twitter might even crash.

Everyone already seems to be ready for it.

Mark O'Meara played with him and was immediately moved to place him as leading contender: "He's powerful again."

Sports Illustrated, in a piece entitled "The meaning of Pebble Beach" felt it had seen enough in his losing duel with Phil Mickelson to ask a question that had not been heard in some time: how many majors will Woods end up with?

That was in February; a win at an invitational in Bay Hill last month officially cranked the machinery into gear. Even his instructor, Sean Foley, hitherto viewed with the suspicion cricket reserved for John Buchanan (and the world for oddballs), for talking too much and reworking the American's swing, might not be such a bad guy after all.

If Woods does win, his path will have been far from unique, although you have got to wonder whether anyone has fallen so steep and thus, had as much a climb back as him.

In tennis, Jennifer Capriati's return in the early 2000s was big, but her pre-fall status was not nearly as exalted. Andre Agassi's second career from 1999 on was immense although nobody was as shocked when he slipped in the first place.

Many of Pakistan's cricketers exist in a continual state of rebirth so that it is difficult to assess a single, specific revival and differentiate it from others (Misbah-ul-Haq's third chance, however, is pretty special).

It is mandatory for every boxer to disappear in an abyss of their own making before returning cleansed at least once (to some promoters, it is a stipulation for title shots).

And you just know that Mario Balotelli, the Manchester City footballer, will at some point fall so hard somewhere that his subsequent reformation will be equally heralded.

Standing in the way of Woods, however, is the tale of the impish Tinkerbell of golf, Rory McIlroy. He is on his own shorter, more specific and less dramatic second chance, to reclaim a little something of what he lost on a traumatic Augusta Sunday last year.

More's the fortune for us that we have such competing redemptive battles to contemplate (also dubbed, far less appealingly as a battle of golf past and golf future).

We can ignore that McIlroy probably does not see it that way.

His mother, Rosie, cried watching her son's four-shot lead on the final day go up in a puff of dust that day: he called her up and told her simply that is the way it goes and that it is only a game of golf.

Only a game? There are actually many more reasons to watch, even for those like myself who only occasionally flirt with the sport.

All sport is, in essence, a challenge unto oneself but where is this challenge barer than in golf? There really is no pretension of competing against another.

Here, as so many golfers like saying, you are up against yourself and the course. And to confound matters, the land is both ally and opponent. And perhaps because of this, it is difficult to think of another, bigger sport which throws up more often a completely unheralded, unknown winner at a major.

YE Yang winning the PGA Championships in 2009 (heading off Woods incidentally), Darren Clarke and Keegan Bradley at the British Open and the PGA last year, Trevor Immelman and Zach Johnson at Augusta in 2008 and 2007 respectively; these are just the most recent ones to remember. Behind them is an entire tradition.

It does not happen in football, in tennis, anywhere. And so actually, to correct this column's opening, perhaps something does trump the story of redemption: the story of a winner nobody had heard of the week before.

 

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE