x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tiger Woods' whimper back to a roar with the Masters round the corner

The former world No 1's win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in Bay Hill has made the upcoming Masters suddenly far more appealing.

Winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational has Tiger Woods roaring again. Good timing, with the Masters coming up next.
Winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational has Tiger Woods roaring again. Good timing, with the Masters coming up next.

Well, if that wasn't a weird thing to see on the screen during jet lag at 2am on a Monday.

Tiger Woods won a PGA Tour event. More than that, he took a Sunday by the scruff just like in yore. His five-shot win was the most gaping tour margin since Rory McIlroy won the 2011 US Open by eight.

Woods again looked majestic and ruthless, and earned comments from rivals such as Graeme McDowell, who said: "I think he really kind of nailed home his comeback."

Everyone started slobbering over the Masters, where McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and even Woods will arrive from auspicious winters.

And just like everything else since Woods' vehicle hit the hydrant 28 months ago, the whole thing seemed bizarre, 923 days since his last real win, and not because of the 923 days, but because of the 14.

Fourteen little sunrises prior, there came a flashpoint in the long discussion over whether Woods would resume trademark prowess, that discussion that for so many has alleviated some tedium of life.

As of March 12, that discussion had tilted firmly to the doubters.

Another nadir had crashed in.

In the fourth round at Doral in Miami, way back when three Sundays ago, Woods changed shoes at the turn, which does not figure in the golf world's top 10 most encouraging signs. He limped. He began trying to revive his left leg.

Then at No 12, during a commendable performance at nine-under par, he smashed a 321-yard drive and winced. He walked over to playing partner Webb Simpson, who later told reporters: "He just shook my hand and said, 'I've got to go in'.

"You could tell he was hurting."

Woods left the premises and drove off as a camera in the sky gave television viewers a sampling of his other kind of driving.

Piled upon all the evidence of the years, that seemed chilling. Remember how he played nine holes at the Players Championship last year, took 42 shots and withdrew, missing almost three months because of that same Achilles tendon.

Remember that his lifetime total of knee surgeries upon that left leg numbers four. Remember, rationally, that Jack Nicklaus won only four of his 18 major titles after turning Woods's age of 36.

And the path had spent recent months growing indecipherable.

He kept talking of the progress of his swing change, but if you followed his remarks long term you could find the same basic content long before. He finished third in Australia late last year, began 2012 in Abu Dhabi and shared the Sunday morning lead.

He failed to menace from there, looking benign in finishing third to Robert Rock. Chatter on the swing soon turned to chatter on the putting, where Woods seemed lost, butchering Pebble Beach on Sunday and a second-round short one in the Match Play in Arizona.

He did have a closing 62 at the Honda, lovely but inscrutable.

He just kept meandering along and clinging to his win in the wholly unofficial Chevron World Challenge in December, continually reminding that the event of only 18 players has world-rankings points.

But when the Achilles rebelled again, everyone with a dimpled brain wondered when Woods might even play next, and a great golf writer who knows the game better than almost all seven billion other humans wondered, "Will Woods ever win again?" Those five words contained zero irrationality.

And from there, in this whole winding saga, we go through an exhibition called the Tavistock Cup, right to 57 of 72 greens in regulation, to sound putting, to weekend mastery, to Sunday dominance of an excellent field with the best score among the last 16 pairings … all in a whoosh.

Post-whoosh, we sit on the other end, with Woods citing the injuries as the greatest former frustration because they curbed so much practice.

Age 36 regains its rightful youth, voila. The four-time Masters winner looks towering for Augusta.

The path from 14 major titles to Nicklaus's record 18 looks cleared of much brush, ready for resumption.

"I've gone into Augusta with wins and without wins," said Woods on Sunday. "You're looking for one week, that's all. You know, just hopefully everything comes together for that one week. I understand how to play Augusta National, and it's just a matter of executing the game plan."

He sounded like pre-2009 yore.

Suddenly, we have the most delicious major tournament of the last three years. The whole thing is wondrous. The whole thing is crazy.

 

cculpepper@thenational.ae