Next week Tiger Woods will be fully engaged as one of Davis Love’s non-playing vice-captains during the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, Minnesota. Sceptics would suggest that, if so, it might almost be the first occasion on which he has been fully engaged for the Ryder Cup. Quite shockingly, Woods has only played on one winning American Ryder Cup team, in 1999, as opposed to six losing ones. (He didn’t play when the Americans won in 2008 because of injury.) Love has, almost affectionately, spoken of Woods as his “tactician” for the forthcoming encounter, although whatever role he played in the selection of the three of four wild cards Love has announced so far – Rickie Fowler, J. B. Holmes and Matt Kuchar – didn’t serve to alter the universal perception of bland that those choices embodied.
There will be a time and a place to talk about the 2016 Ryder Cup here – over the two weeks succeeding this, to be precise. Because this is about Tiger the golfer rather than Tiger the gopher. He says that after a 14-month break he is planning to return to competitive action at the Safeway Open in Napa, California, next month, beginning October 13. After that he’ll tee it up on the European Tour in November at the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya; followed by his own tournament, the Tiger Woods Invitational, in Monterey; and then the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas shortly before Christmas. The 14-times major champion may have a world ranking that nowadays languishes in the 700s and rising but he is still likely to prove himself the No. 1 draw in golf when he does get back out on to the fairways – and, no doubt, into the rough as well.
“I’m sort of glad I won’t be there [in Napa],” said Rory McIlroy. “That week is going to be a circus.” McIlroy has been one of Tiger’s successors as world No. 1 since Woods last won a tournament, in 2013, before he suffered a sequence of golf-halting injuries. “My rehabilitation is to the point where I’m comfortable making plans,” said Woods. “But I still have work to do. My hope is to have my game ready to go. It was difficult missing tournaments that are important to me but this time I was smart about my recovery and I didn’t rush it.”
Since Tiger’s glory days seem so long ago – his last victory in a major championship was in 2008 – it is easy to overlook how his more modern records stack up against the game’s current top players. When Dustin Johnson won the BMW Championship the Sunday before yesterday, it was his 12th PGA Tour title, all of them having been earned since the beginning of 2008. In that regard, he joined Rory McIlroy as the second-equal most successful golfer on the PGA Tour over that time span. (BTW, Phil Mickelson’s equivalent number is 10.) No prizes for guessing who’s first. Despite the years of drought, Woods has racked up 18 wins during that period. His more recent career may represent a famine but not one that anyone else would recognise as such. Bizarre as it may appear, the game may want him back as much as he does.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen