x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Woods has lost his aura

Or has he? The No 1 player in the world, and possibly the greatest ever, found a way to come out on top despite a performance which was average at best.

The people at the Accenture World Match Play in Tucson, Arizona, the media in general, a large chunk of the golfing public and most of his fellow tournament professionals were in agreement that Tiger Woods got his timing completely wrong. But did he? Or wasn't it another example of Woods doing what he does best - the No 1 player in the world, and possibly the greatest ever, finding a way to come out on top despite a performance which was average at best.

As an exercise in establishing just who, and what, is the most important thing in golf, it was just about faultless. Tiger has disgraced himself, shamed and embarrassed his wife beyond imagine, shattered his image as a role model for young people and ridiculed his assertion that family always comes first. Hounded by the media, tortured online, dropped by major sponsors like something great and good that had turned nasty overnight, he retreated behind the walls of his eight-bedroom Lake Isleworth, Florida home and left golf wondering when he would return.

Tiger stayed away in silence while the Tour rolled on, almost apologetically, like a Broadway Show forced to go back on stage without the biggest star. When the time came for him to speak, the golfing world, and a large part of the rest of the world that does not normally care about golf, held its breath. For spectator appeal, his carefully rehearsed and choreographed 13-minute apology before a hand-picked audience at the PGA Tour Headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach was two Super Bowls in one.

Wrong for many reasons, but perfectly right for Tiger and those with interests in getting him back on course as soon as possible, or when he feels ready. It overshadowed the first WGC event of the year, the World Match Play event sponsored by Accenture, one of the sponsors to drop him. Given the blessing of the PGA Tour, the Tiger Show left a sport which has always said it is bigger than any single player looking like one which no longer believes that.

If Accenture were angry, they were not saying. While Ernie Els questioned the timing, others shied away from the cameras or were diplomatic when put in front of them. At the Tour's Mayakoba Classic in Mexico, where I watched the broadcast in the locker room with the players, the general consensus was that Tiger's first public appearance since Woodsgate broke back was too heavily stage managed and lacked sincerity.

If the timing of his appearance was questionable, imagine the headlines had he waited one more week to cleanse his system during the Waste Management Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale, Arizona. I played there in 1987 when it was won by Paul Azinger, and an 11-year-old Eldrick Woods had already collected two titles at the Junior World Golf Championships. Since then we have become accustomed to seeing Tiger win, marvelled at his skill and been intrigued and intoxicated by the powers of a golfer who gets more attention than the average US President.

Over the last two months he has left golf playing a guessing game over his return. Many feel he has been playing games, ultimately holding golf to ransom. But there is now a rising tide of opinion working against him and he could be forced to show his hand. If he does not tee it up at the US Masters in April it will hurt Tiger more than the game, and I do not see him letting that happen. He is no longer perfect, but was he ever? He is seen as being manipulative, narcissistic, only interested in doing what is best for himself, and there are many who put him on a pedestal that were glad to see him fall off and now resent the very thought of him climbing back on.

To others, through everything that has been delivered on a plate and subsequently raked up for all to see, he is still the greatest golfer the world has seen. He is a genius, and we want him back doing what he does best, even if golf is all he can get right. For me, it is an enormous shame that he has not followed the examples of great past champions like Jack Nicklaus, Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazon, all gentlemen golfers without issues. The aura has gone, even if the magic is still in his hands.

Some time ago, when Ian Poulter suggested in a roundabout way that he had a better chance than any other European of seriously challenging Tiger's grip on golf, eyebrows were raised and jaws dropped. After his World Match Play win, Poulter has climbed to No 5 in the world, and now no one is going nudge, nudge, when he walks on to the tee, except those who still find it strange to see a golfer dressed in pink.

Poulter could not watch the Tiger Show because he did not want to be distracted. He won the first all-English final, overcoming Paul Casey's superior power and often brilliance with a putting stroke even Woods would be happy with, if he did not already have the best the game has seen. His putting could now take him to No 2, and if he gets there Poulter is brave and brash enough to believe he could take the final step.

For the time being, Colin Montgomerie, the European Ryder Cup captain, will be encouraged that three of the four semi-finalists last weekend - Sergio Garcia being the other - will be in his team in Wales next October. Former European and US Tour player Philip Parkin (www.philparkin.com) is a member of the TV golf commentary team for the BBC in the UK and Golf Channel in the US. sports@thenational.ae