One thought hovered in the air four years ago as Tiger Woods hobbled away from the Dubai Desert Classic: would he ever play again?
Delusional? Maybe, but if you’d witnessed Woods’s first round 77 you might have asked the same question. Many that day would have had a hard time predicting Woods would win another tournament, let alone the 2019 Masters.
The man sometimes seems super human.
Woods pulled out of the 2017 Dubai Desert Classic on the morning of the second round. It was just the third event of a comeback following yet another injury, nerve pain in his back. Despite assuring all and sundry before the tournament he was fine physically, Woods looked anything but as he limped his way round the Emirates course.
“I wasn't in pain at all,” Woods said. “I was just trying to hit shots and I wasn't doing a very good job. I just could not hit the putts hard enough. I left every putt short.”
Woods’s 77 was two shots outside his previous worst score in Dubai. He was a combined 92-under-par before that first round.
Many of us were interested to see how Woods would bounce back. We never got the chance. Back spasms later that evening meant he didn’t even turn up for the second round. Cue what next for Tiger Woods? stories by all and sundry.
If you ever wanted to know how Woods dominates media attention then the contrast between his pre-tournament press conference and Saturday morning told you everything you needed to know. It was hard to get inside the interview room for Woods’s press conference, never mind find a seat. I stood just inside the door, and heard Woods’s manager utter a line that paraphrased Chief Brody’s line in Jaws. Mark Steinberg followed Woods into the interview room and said: “We’re going to need a bigger room.”
By Saturday morning, the European Tour could have got away with a smaller media centre. Every American golf outlet hightailed it out of town after Woods withdrew.
Speculation on Woods’s future had been rampant the previous day. I remember having a conversation with one seasoned Woods watcher who, like me, had witnessed all 77 blows of Woods's opening round. The experienced scribe actually wondered if perhaps we’d both witnessed a moment in history: Tiger Woods’s last competitive round. The thought crossed my mind too.
Here’s snapshot of what I wrote in my Golfweek report:
“That the 14-time major winner is a shadow of his former self is an understatement.
“It was hard not to compare the former world number one to other great sportsmen trying to recapture the form that made them dominant. Bjorn Borg trying to win Grand Slam titles with wooden rackets eight years after retirement springs to mind.
“Think of any boxer who’s come out of retirement to try to recapture former glories only to find the body won’t do what the mind tells it to.
“There’s no doubting Woods has the talent to play the game differently, but will his body let him? On the evidence of Dubai, the answer is an emphatic no.
“Whatever anyone feels about the man, he was great for golf and set records that might never be broken. To see him struggle on a course where he won twice, where his stroke average had previously been 68.17, was a sad sight.
“Only Woods knows deep in his heart if he can get back to anywhere near his best. Let’s hope he can.
“Many have got lost in the desert chasing mirages. Tiger Woods looked just that in the sands of Dubai. It’s hard to find sanctuary with a broken compass when you’re hopelessly lost.”
Tiger Woods’s last golf tournament? Ha, ha, ha….
#JustSaying: “I just tried to stay out of the way. I was playing in the last group on a Saturday, and I literally felt like ‘I probably shouldn’t be here.’” Thomas Bjorn on playing with Tiger Woods in the third round of the 2000 US Open, which Woods won by 15 shots