European golf has never had it so good. Look no further than the World Golf Rankings and that’s all you need to know: Donald, McIlroy, Westwood, Kaymer. Nobody else is even close. The top four have taken such a grip at the top of the game that it’s mirroring the supremacy of four huge names in the world of tennis. I’d like to see anyone bet against Djokovic, Nadal, Federer, or Murray in any global tournament and with a straight face tell me they have a chance. That’s how dominant both sets of players are. It’s brilliant. Especially in a sport traditionally dominated by a bunch of whooping Yanks.
So where has it all gone wrong for the Americans? A nation that used to breed Major winners for fun has only had two in the last eight tournaments, hugely talented youngsters such as Anthony Kim and Rickie Fowler are not fulfilling their early promise, pundits can’t see past Team Europe at the next Ryder Cup. The list goes on. It wasn’t that long ago when the Americans, led by the odd couple of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, were cleaning up around the globe and a European victory, and especially a British one, was as realistic as Anton Ferdinand becoming best mates with John Terry.
A strange analogy, you might think, but football has not been the only sport tarnished by claims of racism recently. Tiger’s ex-caddy, the outspoken and rather brash Kiwi Steve Williams, only two weeks ago taunted his former boss at an awards dinner by explaining that ‘his’ recent victory alongside Adam Scott was “the best win of my life”. An odd choice of words for a man who helped mastermind 13 of Tiger’s 14 Major victories and numerous other high-profile tournament wins. Yet he didn’t end there. Asked to explain his comment, Williams added that he wanted to “shove it right up that black assh*le.” You could have heard a pin drop in that room. Suddenly Tiger was front-page news once again.
And while the racism storm continues to be the focus of the world’s media, Tiger has apparently forgiven his former employee and attempted to keep a low profile – so low that most commentators have brushed over his most recent performance at the Australian Open in Sydney. Nearly two years to the day since the first in a string of affairs was revealed to the world, after an acrimonious divorce and sex counselling, after the withdrawal of multi-million dollar sponsorships and a run of injuries that made Owen Hargreaves look like Iron Man, here was the Tiger of old. Trailing by several shots with seven holes to go, he lit up the course with a brutal display of unerring accuracy and very nearly lifted the trophy. The fact he narrowly missed out on victory is not important. Tiger is back.
For many sports fans, there was rarely a better sight than watching one of the greatest golfers in the history of the game carving up the world’s toughest courses as if it was a local pitch and putt. We might well be in for a repeat performance and what a mouth-watering prospect that would be. People can dismiss Tiger all they want but the sport hugely benefits from him competing at his best and capturing the imagination of seasoned hackers and young kids alike around the world. He’s a global phenomenon. Simple as that. Surely golf fans in this country would prefer to see our European boys take on the world’s best and he certainly ticks that box. Personally I would much rather see a Donald or a McIlroy going toe to toe with Tiger and potentially losing than beating a field full of Dustin Johnsons or Oliver Wilsons.
This week, Tiger is part of the U.S team competing in the Presidents Cup down in Melbourne, it could be the next stop on his road to redemption. The prospect of a revitalised Tiger in a match-play environment could make it even more special. His recent record, bearing in mind the challenges he’s been faced with, has been remarkable. At the previous Presidents Cup in San Francisco, he won all five of his matches, and in last year’s Ryder Cup he was nine under over 15 holes in his singles match against a bewildered Francesco Molinari. And to make things even more fascinating, the first day saw him drawn against Adam Scott and a certain New Zealander he knows only too well.
The stage seems to be set perfectly for one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and Steve Williams, along with the European elite, will be watching closely. That comment could come back to bite. Hard.
by Edward Leech