McDowell hints at Tiger's return
IT'S fantastic for world golf to have him back -- Ernie Els!
Yeah, it will be great to have Tiger Woods back too, even if a definite date for his return to PGA Tour action was not confirmed last night. The fact that the speculation refuses to go away, however, tears the rug out from under his sermon at Sawgrass last month.
Woods had tried hard to be the soul of sincerity as, hand on heart (literally), he said "sorry world" for his transgressions. His suggestion that "I do plan to return to golf one day, I just don't know when that day will be" was so sombrely delivered, Vera Lynn's moving anthem 'We'll Meet Again' would have been the perfect backing track.
In fairness, Tiger added the line: "I don't rule out that it will be this year." It probably wouldn't have fitted the heavily contrite tone of his monologue if he'd cheerfully concluded: "I'll see ya'll in a few weeks!
"And at the Masters too."
Of course, the whisper has been going around the golf circuit since January's Abu Dhabi Championship that plans were being made for Woods to break the ice with 19 of his tour colleagues at the Tavistock Cup, which takes place next Monday and Tuesday in front of a private audience of neighbours, family and friends at Tiger's home course, Isleworth Country Club.
Joking last weekend about how tough it is to get onto the 10-man Lake Nona team he led to Tavistock victory last March, Graeme McDowell said: "We've got 19 yeses (for the match) and are waiting on the 20th from our boy TW."
There's many a true word spoken in jest.
Tavistock and Bay Hill, where Tiger won for the sixth time last spring, would give Woods the perfect opportunity to hone himself for Augusta a fortnight later.
Those who suspected Tiger was too well coached at Sawgrass; who believed his delivery of that noble 'script' was too well rehearsed and choreographed to have come straight from the heart, have had their case firmly endorsed.
In a way, talk of an imminent return is a relief for many of us who admire Woods, the golfer, and respect him as the most fearsome predator to walk a fairway. It shows he was not really as bowed, cowed or broken as he made himself out to be that Friday morning at Sawgrass.
There was no questioning the sincerity of Els' delight on Sunday at Doral as he celebrated a comprehensive four-stroke victory over his South African "younger brother" and regular house guest Charl Schwartzel in a splendid climax to The CA World Championship of Golf.
In the two years since his previous PGA Tour victory at Honda, Els had not been himself, yet he ambled to Sunday's 66 with all the grace and elegance we used expect from The Big Easy of old.
Of course, winning is never easy and Els admitted he'd been nervous even as he carried a four-shot lead onto the tee at Doral's fearsome 18th, the Blue Monster itself. Too many infamous final-hole collapses have chipped away at his self-belief in recent years, and a couple of twitchy missed putts in Saturday's third round helped keep him on tenterhooks.
"I'm 40, and I've had a tough run," he said on Sunday night. "I thought my game was in good shape. I just wanted to come out and prove it to myself for once, which is why this means so much.
"You know, my wife can tell me to try and be as positive as I can; so can my manager Chubby Chandler, Ricci my caddie and Dr Bob Rotella, whoever. But I really trusted myself out there."
Els re-established his record as the player to have spent most time in the world's top 10, 759 weeks in all, as Sunday's victory propelled him from 20th to eighth in the rankings issued yesterday.
Padraig Harrington returns to world No 10 on the back of his tie for third place at Doral, just in time for his first visit to the White House tomorrow for a St Patrick's Day party thrown by President Barack Obama for Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
Rory McIlroy is edged back down into 11th, while McDowell obliterated any worries he might have had about retaining his position in the elite world top 50 with Sunday's spectacular bogey-free 66 and a tie for sixth place, which lifted him to No 41 in the latest rankings.
So McDowell, like Phil Mickelson and, one supposes, Els definitely goes to Bay Hill, while Harrington takes a week off after this weekend's Transitions Championship at Fort Lauderdale before girding himself for Augusta in Houston.
For Harrington, the disappointment of giving up that hat-trick of bogeys on the back nine at Doral was by far outweighed by the opportunity to measure his game in the white heat of Sunday at a World Championship.
It was explained nicely by Mickelson as he outlined his reasons for adding Bay Hill to his schedule: "I'm not scoring as well as I need to be heading into Augusta. I need to get into contention in one of these events coming up to really give myself the best chance heading into the Masters."
With Els so clearly in top form and Harrington getting there, the possibility of a Tiger return gives the makings of an unforgettable Masters.