Sport Golf

Monday 11 December 2017

'He was very much one of the lads' - Tiger Woods has left an indelible mark on Ireland, as AP McCoy and others recall


Tony McCoy and Tiger Woods, right, share a joke as Mick Fitzgerald prepares to tee off at the 9th tee box during the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am back in July, 2010. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE
Tony McCoy and Tiger Woods, right, share a joke as Mick Fitzgerald prepares to tee off at the 9th tee box during the JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am back in July, 2010. Photo: Diarmuid Greene / SPORTSFILE

Barry Lennon

"He's an intriguing character because you could spend two hours in his company and see four different sides to him." - Rory McIlroy on Tiger Woods, the Sunday Independent

Rory McIlroy was just seven years old the night of Tiger Woods' legendary 12-shot triumph at the 1997 Masters.

Inspired by the former world No 1's feat, the Holywood boy would go on to become a golfing superstar in his own right, and get to know Woods well.

He will be disappointed an injured Tiger can't mark the 20th anniversary of that Major breakthrough on Augusta National's fairways this week.

However, since that remarkable victory, the American has got to know Ireland and left an indelible mark on some of those he met.

Another Ulsterman, Darren Clarke, was one of the first to get under Woods' skin by beating him at the WGC-Andersen Consulting Match Play in 2000.

Before the two men teed off in California, Woods felt comfortable enough to speak frankly to Clarke over breakfast, as the Tyrone man recalled: "'Hey Tiger,' I said. 'If you chip in today and start one of those exaggerated celebrations running round the green and fist-pumping, then I'll give you a slap across the face'.

"To which Tiger replied something along the lines of 'Go away, you overweight sod; you couldn't catch me anyway.'"

The cigar-chomping Clarke, with a love for the good life, later became an unlikely friend to Woods. He praised Woods' support after his wife Heather died of cancer, with Tiger's phone calls convincing Clarke to make the Ryder Cup in 2006 at the K Club.

Weeks after the tragedy the pair famously embraced on the tournament's practice grounds as a thousand cameras clicked. Woods hadn't seen Clarke since Heather's death. Clarke remembered his thoughtfulness and defended the American following public revelations of Woods' affairs in 2009.

"He has been a tremendous friend to me, and there's a real good side to Tiger that nobody unfortunately gets to see," he said.

For record-breaking jockey AP McCoy, playing with Woods in the 2010 JP McManus Invitational Pro-Am was "one of the best things that ever happened".

"To this day I don't know how my name came out (in the draw). I don't care. I'm not going to ask too many questions," he recalled.

"If he hadn't looked at me or said two words to me I wouldn't have thought any different. All I cared about was playing with the most dominant golfer."

When the Antrim man, with Ruby Walsh as caddie, met Woods on the practice green at Adare Manor the group hit it off.

"He knew I was a jockey but I'm not sure he'd have known who Wayne Rooney was," said McCoy. "He was very much one of the lads."

Woods is familiar with Ireland off the course, having gone on fishing trips with his friend Mark O'Meara, a former Masters champion.

John King, who designed and managed water hazards for the K Club, once organised a trip for the pair at Careysville - the Duke of Devonshire's exclusive salmon-fishing lodge near Lismore, Co Waterford. King encountered a different Woods.

"O'Meara was a very entertaining guy to have around. Full of bonhomie and stories, good company. Tiger wasn't," he recalled. "There wasn't much conversation out of him. O'Meara often said, 'snap out of it', and Woods said back to him, 'Okay pops.'"

While O'Meara landed a 20lb salmon on his first cast of the rod, Woods failed to catch a thing over the three days.

King fished the Blackwater with the pair ahead of the JP McManus' Invitational in 2000 and remembers Woods' "prodigious appetite" well.

"At one point, I went in (to the fishing lodge) and got a slice of lemon cake and I was eating it and he said 'how is that?' And I said 'it's very good, actually.' So he went in and came out with the rest of the cake, the whole thing."

However, after Woods and O'Meara's helicopter touched down in the European Club to set the course record two years later, owner Pat Ruddy had a different story.

"Tiger was the only one who wouldn't eat the apple tart (afterwards). He had his own chef at the time. We tried the Mrs Doyle thing, 'go on, go on, go on, go on, have a bit'," he recalled.

"He didn't have much time, he hung around for just 20 minutes after the round. He was focused on the British Open (a week later)."

Ruddy, who first met a teenage Woods in the States, kept things under wraps, telling a select few to join him around the course the night before.

"Of course we followed him around - if you have a Formula One fella coming to town and he's going to be testing a Morris Minor, you'd like to see how he handles it too," he added.

Ruddy was a useful source of local knowledge, having designed the Wicklow links course himself. Particularly on the 12th.

"Tiger said 'what do I do here?' and 'I said hit her towards the beach and give her a curve to the left.' And Mark O'Meara replied 'he didn't ask you how to play it, he said where to play it.' So I was very pleased he stuck it in the right rough."

Ruddy hopes the 41-year-old returns to the European club, as well as next year's Masters, with more time for apple tart and a chance to see his other side.

Irish Independent

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