The media frenzy has begun with Tiger Woods announcing his return to the sport – but Stephen Devine reports that there’s a golf tournament to be played too
So the circus seems to be finally coming to an end, as the world number one makes his much anticipated return to golf at the US Masters in a couple of weeks’ time. Tiger Woods seems to finally be able to put the scandal about his private life behind him.
It was thought that Woods would choose a lower-profile event to mark his return, such as the Tavistock Cup or the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. However, he has chosen the first big event of the year – and those that have seen him practice at his home club of Isleworth in recent days are of the opinion he could easily make a winning return at Augusta.
Seve Ballesteros has backed Woods’s prospects of winning the US Masters and described his return as “the best news that golf can have.” Speaking at the launch of Madrid’s Ryder Cup bid for 2018 the Spanish golfer said, “He is very used to playing long off the tee and he knows the golf course very well so I think he has a great chance to win.”
All the talk of Woods’s return will take the pressure off the other competitors, which could play right in to the hands of Padraig Harrington. The Dubliner’s form has been impressive recently; a second successive top-ten finish on the US Tour has allowed him return home for a short break before resuming his build-up to the Masters. He will use the Houston Open – where the tournament organisers set up the greens as closely as possible to those at Augusta – to iron out any chinks before settling into the Masters week.
The other major Irish interest in the competition will come in the form of Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell. The two Northern Irishmen’s progress in recent seasons haven’t reached the heights of Harrington’s: McIlroy has spent the last number of weeks at home resting up and making a full recovery from the back injury which has halted his progress this season. McDowell, meanwhile, will warm up by competing in the Bay Hill Invitational where he finished second back in 2005.
One wonders if the focus on Woods will take away from the actual golf at Augusta and if it was right for him to choose such a high profile event to launch his return. At this point, it’s anybody’s guess as to how Woods will fare in his first foray into competitive golf in five months. Even if Woods has got himself back to peak physical condition, the old saying that golf is played “in the six inches between your ears” will surely have a major bearing on Tiger’s performance. The months of therapy can hardly have his mind in the right place for 72 holes of Masters golf.
Some may see it as hard to bet against Woods when he tees off at the Masters next week. Due to attendant circumstances, he may not be due for a good start; then again, he has never broken 70 in the first round, so it won’t be an extraordinary development. It’s his finish that counts, and because he’s such a sucker for drama, he’ll no doubt be doing his best to make his comeback memorable.
It will be interesting to watch the next chapter of his career unfold back where he belongs on the greens and fairways and far away from treatment centres.