Thursday 19 July 2018

Analysis: Wizard Woods showing signs of old magic as he seeks to complete fairytale at Augusta

Tiger Woods walks off the 2nd tee during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament at Innisbrook Resort, Copperhead Course. Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Tiger Woods walks off the 2nd tee during the final round of the Valspar Championship golf tournament at Innisbrook Resort, Copperhead Course. Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

James Corrigan

It seems perfectly appropriate that Tiger Woods is on his way to Orlando, to the magic kingdom where he has won eight times to make it one of his own personal theme parks. It was Walt Disney who announced "it's kind of fun to do the impossible" and there can be no doubt that Woods would heartedly agree.

A few hours after the Valspar Championship on Sunday, and his first top three in five years, the 42-year-old dropped his normally guarded guise on social media to sum up his mood.

"Wow, what an amazing week... people, atmosphere, adrenalin, back nine on Sunday, man I've missed this."

Not as much the game has missed Woods. If his own resurrection to stand in contention on the 72nd hole of just his fourth comeback event was stunning, then so, too, was the reaction.

In America, Sunday's TV audience was the biggest for a non-Major for five years, since the 2013 Players Championship - which Tiger won - and with respect to Paul Casey, who denied Woods by a shot, they were not tuning in to see if the Englishman could end his own four-year barren run.

And at the Copperhead course, itself, Tigermania took its grasp, with the attendance up by almost a third to 150,000. Wherever Woods went, the Floridians followed in awe, even to the confines of a Portaloo on the 17th tee. "People tried to go straight in there after him with cameras," Joe LaCava, his caddie, reported.

Paul Casey holds up the champion's trophy after winning the Valspar Championship golf tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)
Paul Casey holds up the champion's trophy after winning the Valspar Championship golf tournament in Palm Harbor, Fla. (AP Photo/Mike Carlson)

Even Casey was rooting for him. "I thought he was going to win before the final round," he said. "I thought it was teed up beautifully for him. I said, 'If I don't win, I want Tiger to'. I'm glad it's this way. This was the only time he's ever congratulated me straight after a victory - normally, it's the other way around. It's something special that my win came on a week where Tiger played some great golf and I got to hear the roars."

Hang around because the buzz will reach unprecedented levels should he prevail for a record ninth time at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and those advising caution might as well talk to their golf balls in the air (and yes, golfers do that, too). One of the game's great storylines is unfolding and now, most definitely, is not the time for restraint.

"If you can dream, it, you can do it," was another of Disney's mottos and Woods must feel as if he can touch the reality of a comeback win.

Just the fact the player ranked 149th is the 7-1 favourite for Bay Hill seems surreal in itself, but the falling odds on him winning a 15th Major and fourth green jacket at Augusta in three weeks' time stretches the credulity yet further. But then, the timetable of his place in the Masters betting lists charts the remarkable revival quite nicely.

When he underwent his spinal fusion last May, he was out to 125-1. By December, the market was on the move as he satisfactorily reappeared at his own invitation event in the Bahamas, and by the Honda Classic two weeks ago, where he finished 12th, he was clipped in to 20-1. Now he is down to as skinny as 9-1.

Woods has the likes of Rory McIlroy below him and, by tee-time in Georgia, there could be nobody above.

Woods has amazed himself. It is easy to recognise that he was determined to take it slowly on the comeback trail by the dropping of his "I'm here to win" shtick. In Tampa he was asked if, in the depths of his agony, he ever thought about winning again. "I didn't," he said. "I was living from minute to minute. You have no idea how hard it was."

That accounts for the addiction to prescription medicines and the police mugshot that convinced so many he was done as a sporting hero. But, in less than nine months, he has gone from that salutary tale to becoming sport's potentially greatest example of never giving up.

Those close to him certainly acknowledge the dramatic transformation.

Indeed, Notah Begay, the former Tour player, now views his friend as "the new Tiger".

"He's a completely different person," Begay told the Golf Channel. "He's gone through public humiliation. He's gone through personal challenges.

"He's gone through physical injury. He's gone through technical problems in all parts of his game. He's risen above it all and the end result is a guy who is really appreciative of the ability to go out there again and play the type of golf (of which) he's capable."

The fans are looking on with the simplistic wonder of the old Tiger being reborn. And the stats do nothing to crush this notion, with the Trackman measuring device showing his swinghead speed to be faster than everyone else and the distance charts highlighting he can more than keep up with the youngsters who had supposedly left him behind.

Granted, some rust remains, with his irons and putter not ultra-sharp on Sunday, but that only serves to make the possibilities more enticing.

"Getting better," Woods said.

Those such as McIIroy, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas have insisted they crave the chance to go up against Woods in his pomp.

Yet David Duval, the former world No 1 who experienced being a Woods inferior, had a succinct response: "the hell they do".

Tiger is back. Hold on to your visors. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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