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John Duggan: Appreciating the...
Golf

John Duggan: Appreciating the sporting greatness of Tiger Woods

John Duggan writes that there must be question marks as to whether Tiger Woods will play competitive golf again, so let's enjoy his genius...

It must have been a strange experience for Los Angeles Police Department officer Carlos Gonzalez to peer inside the smashed-up SUV in California on Tuesday morning and notice that the injured passenger was Tiger Woods, one of the most recognisable people on the planet. Surreal is the word.

Fortunately, Tiger Woods is going to survive the car crash. The LAPD say he was lucky. It appears his right leg was mangled, fractured multiple times, while his ankle was in bits. He can forget the Masters, but the Masters is not important in the grand scheme of things. He’s okay and that’s the main thing, for himself, his kids, his family, his friends and his many admirers around the globe.

You never know what’s around the corner. Every single day is a blessing, and healthy sports stars have lost their lives in accidents; golfer Payne Stewart in 1999; Kobe Bryant last year. Michael Schumacher’s life changed irrevocably after he suffered a brain injury in a skiing accident in 2013. A wise old man told me once that human beings are fragile. No one is invincible and Tiger Woods will count himself very fortunate.

Is this it for Woods and competitive golf? Who knows what Tiger will feel as he recuperates in his hospital bed, but one would have to imagine that he’s thinking of putting down the clubs. It’s not wild to contemplate he will now retire. I have a sense he just might.

With 15 majors, Woods has not reached Jack Nicklaus’ mark of 18, but the 45-year-old has nothing to prove. Not with 82 PGA Tour titles to his name. Yes, that’s level with Sam Snead, but sharing that honour is fine. With five back surgeries to try and stay competitive, Woods’ body has been through so much, and emotionally, he has endured a rollercoaster over the last decade. The sex scandal and the DUI sent him on a ticket to rock bottom and he came back from all of that to win the Masters in 2019 - a sporting triumph for the ages. From the outside looking in he seems a happier person - a devoted, smiley father, enjoying his young son Charlie play golf and spending time with his daughter Samantha. He’s not the sullen guy who intimidated and crushed the opposition every week and was the subject of anecdotes by reporters of engaging in mean behaviour, conduct that was not illuminated by his wild infidelity, a period in his life when he felt the rules didn’t apply to him.

Woods is an incredible competitor, but those surgeries on his back have taken their toll. He only played 9 events last year. Living with pain will always be a part of his daily makeup. Add to that previous knee surgeries on his left leg, a right leg that will take months to heal and the prospect of arthritis and one wonders if he will give his body a rest from all of this for good. I asked David Feherty in 2016 if Woods had a comeback in him. He didn’t think so. Surprisingly, there was a comeback, but how many comebacks does a sports star need?

Woods’ own mind and the future will write that chapter, but I think it’s always worth tapping into his achievements as a reminder of this magical sporting talent - the best golfer to have lived - the Maradona, the Ali of his sport.

There was the golden arrival at the 1997 Masters, a 12 shot win. The golf he produced at the 2000 US Open at Pebble Beach was different from anyone else - a 15 shot procession. A month later, Woods won the Open at St Andrews by 8 shots, not encountering a bunker all week. A month after that, his finger pointed the putts home as the US PGA title was defended. The following April, Woods stared down Phil Mickelson and David Duval at Augusta to win the Tiger Slam. Woods also took the Players’ Championship that year, a putt on the island 17th the highlight. In 2002, his clutch putting to win the US Open at Bethpage Black was sensational. There was the chip in at 16 in the 2005 Masters, the 63 in the US PGA at Southern Hills in 2007, winning the US Open on one leg in 2008 and then grinding the field into dust at the 2019 Masters, wearing traditional Sunday Red. It’s all on YouTube. It’s worth your time.

It’s important to enjoy what he has delivered in terms of awe, excitement and wonder as we may never see Tiger Woods grace the fairways of a major championship again.

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