The British Masters (supported by Sky Sports and hosted by Luke Donald) ended at The Grove Golf Club near Watford yesterday. The course made international headlines earlier this year when David Cameron enjoyed a round there with Barack Obama, at a time when you’d have got generous odds on the former losing his job before the latter. Alex Noren enjoyed his time there, the Swede collecting his third title in his last eight starts on the European Tour and thereby giving more ammo to the Ryder Cup Hindsight Brigade – as in clearly Darren Clarke should have picked Noren and Russell Knox as his wild cards instead of Martin Kaymer and Lee Westwood (who finished third, incidentally).
But this blog is about a couple of other guys. Missing the cut at The Grove by three shots, and totally out of the headlines, was José Maria Olazábal. The previous occasion on which the two-times Masters champion, now aged 50, had played the Hertfordshire layout had been ten years ago when the WGC/American Express Championship was won by eight shots by a guy named Tiger Woods, who’s now 40. Olazábal then tied for 17th, 16 shots in arrears of the man whose latest failed comeback generated a storm of headlines about how this might really be the end for him.
Woods had been scheduled to make a return to competitive golf last week at the Safeway Open in California after a 14-month break from the game due to injury. In contrast to the fanfare surrounding the Tiger story, there was no fuss – not even a press conference – in acknowledgement of Olazábal’s return to competitive golf after an 18-month absence due to injury. This was his first tournament appearance since the 2015 Masters, which ended after rounds of 79-71. A fortnight previously he had tied ninth at the Trophée Hassan II in Morocco on the back of a closing 66 but a month after Augusta he withdrew from the Spanish Open, feeling unable to swing properly, and he hadn’t hit a ball in anger since. (Well, there had doubtless been some anger, but you know what I mean.)
Before last week, the Spaniard had not played four straight days of golf since Morocco. At the British Masters, the world No. 1660 was endeavouring to play five rounds (pro-am included) and it was no surprise when that didn’t happen. Maybe he’ll fare better in Portugal this coming week, and if he can continue to see an improvement in his health perhaps he could do nicely on the Champions Tour in America next season. One hopes so. He has given a lot to European golf, not least in the Ryder Cup.
As for Woods (world ranking 786, so more than twice as good as Ollie!), his withdrawal because his game was feeling “vulnerable” meant the Safeway Open went from being perhaps the most eagerly anticipated strokeplay tournament of the year to being just another ho-hum 72-hole event. Who knows what the future holds for him? He seems uncertain himself, and of course part of the problem is that it’s not like he can make a quiet comeback, flying under the radar. When (or should that be ‘if’?) he does return, it will likely be the worldwide sports story of the week. For all his bravado – “I’m close and I won’t stop until I get there” – one senses that if such a previously dominant personality as Tiger Woods is feeling “vulnerable”, that is a mental place utterly unfamiliar to him as a sportsman.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen