Saturday 27 May 2017

Tiger casts aura over new generation

Tiger Woods tees off at the eighth hole during the Pro Am event ahead of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which starts today. Photo: Getty Images
Tiger Woods tees off at the eighth hole during the Pro Am event ahead of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, which starts today. Photo: Getty Images

James Corrigan

If Tiger Woods was in any doubt about what he means to the young professional golfers now storming the fairways, then this week has confirmed he is nothing less than a living legend.

Woods' autograph is always in huge demand at every event in which he appears, but usually the other competitors resist requesting a memento. Not here. Marcus Armitage, a 29-year-old from Yorkshire, walked straight up to him on the range and asked to have a cap signed and a selfie taken.

"I cannot believe I am playing in the same tournament as Tiger, the greatest of all time," he said. "I was not going to miss the chance."

That has been the general feeling here at the Emirates Golf Course as the icon, who they watched as children and yearned to emulate, has suddenly landed in their midst.

None of them has expressed their emotions more personally or publicly than Matthew Southgate, a 28-year-old from Essex, who wrote an open letter to the 14-time major-winner on his Facebook page.

Southgate speaks of his pride at overcoming the normal adversities a wannabe faces when trying to crack the big time, as well as the bout of cancer he suffered two years ago. His inspiration was Woods.

"If there is something in your heart you feel you want from your life, just take a look in that mirror, stand up tall, shoulders back and remember you get one crack at this life," Southgate wrote.

"This world is not about how hard you can hit, it's about how hard you can get hit but keep moving forwards. Mr Woods, it is a pleasure. Best of luck and play well."

When Woods was informed of this message he dropped his guard.

"That hits you deep. I've heard of stories like that," he said. "With the background that I have, being part of the military (through his father, Earl), I know a lot of guys who have been wounded and back for more, even though they have been shot up pretty good.

"Those, to me, are heroes, and for someone to consider a golfer that way is pretty enlightening."

Ceremonial

The last thing Woods wants is to be cast as "a ceremonial golfer" - his appearance fee at the Dubai Desert Classic is thought to be around £1m. He is only 41, and although three back operations led to a near 18-month absence - ended last week with a missed cut at Torrey Pines - in his mind he remains Tiger the golfer rather than Tiger the idol.

"I try not to go down that path (of thinking what he means to golf) because I like to consider myself a player and a guy that is playing out here and competing," Woods said.

"I know I've accomplished some pretty neat things so far, but I hope I can continue. If I'm teeing it up, the goal is to win.

"Whether I'm injured, coming off an injury or I'm playing well, or I'm playing poorly, if I'm in the event, it's to win it."

Woods' rivals have been warned, although it is not a battle cry that will have them scurrying for cover.

Success would be making the cut; a notable success would be a top 10, as signified by his contract, believed to contain a £200,000 bonus should he finish so high. Don't bet on it. Woods looks stiff, and the jetlag has been no help.

Nor was the 2am call from his mother. She got her time zones wrong.

But then, watching Tiger, the world's 666th-ranked player, being showered in petals here, that has been forgivable. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

  • Omega Dubai Desert Classic, Live, Sky Sports 4, 4.0am/11.0am

Telegraph.co.uk

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