Gary Player backs Tiger Woods to return to his best as a golfer
Nine-time champion buoyed by emergence of players of other races and backgrounds, such as Li Haotong and Dubai's own Rayhan Thomas
Gary Player has predicted that Tiger Woods would return to his best after he finished just seven shots behind eventual winner Jason Day at the Farmers Insurance Open on Sunday.
Woods gave his surgically fused spine its toughest test yet when he came away with a tie for 23rd place.
The former world No 1 carded an even-par 72 on the Torrey Pines South Course, where his eight PGA Tour victories include his 14th and most recent major title at the 2008 US Open.
Woods, who has won 14 majors, saw his form plummet during the past decade due to personal problems and a string of injuries, particularly the one to his back.
But 42-year-old American's recent form has given some of his well-wishers hope he could be on a comeback.
Woods pleased with his game
“He was the best golfer on the planet when he was winning all those tournaments,” Player said during the Gary Player Invitational, a charity golf tournament, at the Saadiyat Beach Golf Club on Monday.
“I’m very encouraged with him coming back. We all - anybody with any sense - will hope that he comes and he wins. He has a big challenge ahead of him but everything is a challenge in golf, anyway.”
Player, 82, was also ecstatic about Li Haotong’s victory in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic on Sunday.
“The first time I saw him I said he has the potential to be a champion,” the nine-time major winner said about the Chinese world No 60.
“How much of a champion I don’t know. I don’t know how much is inside him. The commentators were already giving the trophy to Rory and this fellow came up with birdies and won it.
“I have played with Li in China two years ago and had told him ‘Mr Li you are going to be a champion'. So yesterday I sent him an email saying 'my champion, well done'.”
Player was sure McIlroy and Jordan Spieth would be the next in line to complete the career grand slam by winning all the four major titles.
Spieth of the United States has won the US Masters, US Open and British Open, while Northern Irishman McIlroy has taken home the PGA Championship title twice, and US Open and British Open once each.
“These two men can complete the four majors according to me,” Player said. “Winning the [career] grand slam will be an extra boost for them.
“That would also be huge and perfect push that golf will need. I remember when I did it, and then Jack Nicklaus, and then Tiger Woods, and things changed drastically.”
Player, who designed the Saadiyat course, has organised the Abu Dhabi leg of his invitational for three years in succession, with all proceeds donated to the Zayed Humanitarian Organisation.
“When I was designing this golf course I was wondering how many people are going to play here,” he said.
“But now so many people come here and the Fatima bint Mubarak Ladies Open has picked up, and all those golfers are going to go back and be the ambassadors of this place. I have noticed a big move here in Abu Dhabi and UAE.
“So if we can get players like Rayhan Thomas [the Dubai-born Indian teenage golfer] to get going, it will be great. I want to meet this guy [today] and want see him swing. I want to see with my own eyes if he has a chance to be a champion."
Player said there was a need for golf to see champions from different races and backgrounds.
“We need a black man, we need a Chinese man, we need players of different colours and nationalities to be out there and become champion," he said.
“To get a champion from this country, wouldn’t that be incredible. It is possible if we have clinics and tournaments for youngsters, and taking it to the schools along with these tournaments you have.”
Updated: January 29, 2018 09:11 PM