x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Moments of magic from Tiger Woods still mesmerise

Years ago the chip would have felt very much a part of the Woods show ... it's easy to see why people could get ahead of themselves again.

Tiger Woods reacts after chipping in for a birdie on the 16th hole.
Tiger Woods reacts after chipping in for a birdie on the 16th hole.

We've been here before haven't we? Recently in fact, at the end of March, when Tiger Woods won the Bay Hill invitational, simultaneously ending a mammoth drought and shoving himself back in the mix for the Masters.

And here we are again, a record-equalling tour win at the Memorial Tournament in Dublin, Ohio on Sunday and the US Open not much more than a week away.

And remember this space because we'll probably be back here soon, maybe towards the end of July when the British Open is about to start.

We could be coming here for years, golfers being variations of the Black Knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and not ever knowingly giving up on the game.

But Sunday was clearly a good day to be Woods; he birdied three of the last four holes to win it. And one of them, on the 16th, was a shot that prompted Jack Nicklaus to call it the "most unbelievable, gutsy shot" he had seen.

It is a special shot, that much is inarguable.

In deep, heavy rough already, water threatening if he gets the length wrong, slopes if he gets the direction wrong, a less muscled (of late) but still lean Woods makes four practice swings, lovely pendulous ones through which his hips suggest he might bring some moves to the dance floor, before setting himself up.

"Anything inside of six feet would be a wonderful shot," says the broadcaster, noting that he may need to go vertical with a "super high lob" to make light of this terrible starting position.

Woods swings and undercuts it so much to get that height that viewed from above, the club's swing and the angle at which the ball rises are as out of sync as a badly-dubbed Kung Fu film, so that it looks like he has got it horribly wrong.

Then a seven-second wait, as the ball loops in the air, lands halfway of the 15 metres to the hole and then casually strolls the remaining distance, drawn to the hole. He has got it mind-bendingly right.

Those seven seconds produce, the broadcaster tells us, "the one moment right here people have been waiting three years for."

And so it begins. It is safe to presume there is quite a body of folks out there who have not really been waiting for this moment.

And even if it deserves its place on YouTube (which isn't saying all that much because everything ever recorded is now there) there are far too many outrageous shots in the catalogue of Woods alone for the conclusion of Nicklaus to feel truly weighty.

Years ago the chip would have felt very much a part of the Woods show, of magic shots played so often that they didn't feel like magic; under the pump, on a Sunday, in trouble and not et voila! but simply, here you go.

Today it feels like magic. And place this chip against the context of his recent form - on the back of three tournaments where he missed a cut and finished 40th (tied) twice, including at the Masters - and not-so-recent life, and it's easy to see why people could get ahead of themselves again.

Everyone loves a comeback almost as much as they love the comedown in the first place.

Sure, a little humility would make it easier, a humility which with Woods has always felt, at worst, absent and at best, an uncomfortable skin.

After the win, a 73rd PGA Tour title which equalled Nicklaus and left him behind only Sam Snead's 82, Woods paid homage to Nicklaus.

There was just that tiny, cocksure dash of self-congratulation in his assessment of the achievement (even if more than almost any other sportsman, he is probably entitled to it given the scale of his success): "A nice run since I turned pro. To do it at age 36 is not too shabby."

And every sport occasionally needs one dominating presence, stars off the back of whom it can be identified and bought into, given shape and made sense of. They bring security.

Formula One, with six different winners in six races this season, is probably thinking about these things too.

Golf likes to think it is moving on from Woods but it hasn't yet done so. A period in which the Majors have produced a vast array of unlikely and likeable winners has been duly acknowledged.

But maybe the variety has not been wholeheartedly celebrated, so even as golf readies itself for a new champion, just for now they probably wouldn't mind having an old one back.

osamiuddin@thenational.ae

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