Friday 16 November 2018

Sergio Garcia delivers a cold dose of reality to Tiger Woods hype

Tiger Woods addresses the media today
Tiger Woods addresses the media today

James Corrigan

We will know Tiger Woods is truly back in the groove with his grooves when his rivals stop treating him in the manner of a sympathy case instead of an imposing obstacle in the path of their ambitions.

Sergio Garcia did just that when lowering the game’s guard in pouring doubt on the 14-time major winner’s seasonal bow this week.

Unless you have lived in a cave for the past two decades or so – and plenty believe many male club golfers of a certain vintage have done exactly that – it could not have escaped your attention that there has been animosity between Garcia and Woods.

So, no, it was not the biggest surprise to find Garcia venturing what most are fearing but dare not say when it comes to Woods’s official return to the PGA Tour today.

No doubt, the 42-year-old’s performance at the Hero World Challenge last month was promising, but that was an exhibition on a holiday golf course. The Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines is the real thing and, if there is a complete absence of negative thought swirling around any head, then the holder of that cranium is not being entirely honest with themselves.

And, to Garcia’s mind, that includes Woods, too.

“I don’t know, but in my opinion, it’s a big question mark to see how he’s going to be able to do physically,” Garcia said, as he paused his preparations for the Dubai Desert Classic. “He looked pretty good at the Hero Challenge, but he has looked good at that event before and then hasn’t lasted too long afterwards.

“I think that probably he doesn’t even know how his back and his body is going to cope with everything that goes on with playing tournaments and practising.”

Garcia was in the same Dubai field a year ago – indeed, he went on to win – when Woods played 18 holes before withdrawing.

That was the last we saw of him for 10 months, other than a police mug shot when arrested for “driving under the influence” in May.

As a last resort, Woods underwent a spinal fusion and was staggered by the results. He told Rory McIlroy when they played in November that it had been a “mini miracle” and, finally, after all those months and years of agony, he could swing without pain. “Tiger can stun the golf world again,” McIlroy told Telegraph Sport.

This might be true but, as Garcia signified, the queries remain and should do until he is at least a few months down the road in the relaunching of his career.

It is all very well for Hank Haney, his former coach, to declare the expectation that Woods will finish in the top 10 at Torrey.

But, as irresistible as they are to make, grand pronouncements will do nothing for the comeback. The best we can wish for is a steady and stable progression to point to a lasting challenge in his 40s.

For those of us eager to catch more than merely the odd glimpse of his former greatness, the hyping of a resurrection will be as inevitable as the worrying about a relapse. Yet what the game does not need, and what Woods palpably does not require, is for desperation to become the principal emotion and for the belief to take root that golf’s future somehow depends on a born-again Woods.

And, once again, Garcia has provided the realism that maybe only an adversary can bring. “Tiger’s done so much for the sport,” Garcia said. “But if he’s not there, will the game fall apart? I don’t think so.”

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