Sporting Life

Let's first enjoy Tiger before we expect great deeds from him

This week let's forget the past, forget 2013 when he won five times, forget the whole idea of being No. 1 again, forget Jack Nicklaus' 18 Majors. This week, let's start small when he returns. Let Tiger Woods just walk four days and 72 holes undisturbed. Without a shank seen or a yip spotted. Without a wince shown, a physio called or a withdrawal signalled. This would be his greatest victory.

This week let's forget Rory, Jason and Jordan, because his biggest competitor isn't them but his body. Knees sliced, elbow rehabilitated, back stapled. He's becoming like one of those antique cars whose parts are no longer available. It's strange, isn't it, how a career erodes? One moment the athlete appears flush with greatness, the next moment Roger Federer has to take an injury sabbatical and Lionel Messi's body parts start to mutiny; all of them invincible till they meet Father Time and Mr Mortality.

This week, let's forget Woods' advancing age. We know that by 40 Tim Duncan has gone and Peyton Manning has left, Robert De Niro was done with Raging Bull and Kevin Costner finished with his Field of Dreams. Hell, even before they've turned 40, Eddie Howe is coaching Bournemouth and Ivan Ljubicic is tutoring Federer.

But this is golf, owned by 20-somethings now yet dotted with pensioners. Phil Mickelson is 46 and No. 15, Jim Furyk is 46 and No. 27 and Miguel Angel Jimenez is 52 and the No. 1 coolest dude in golf. So let Tiger do, at 40, what he enjoys most, which is putting his talent on trial.

This week, let's forget that this comeback doesn't tug at the adrenal gland like before. Of course, Woods is still golf's leading story, its talismanic ticket seller, but he's not its saviour any more. When we watch now it isn't so much with an expectation of history being made but with the basic hope he isn't embarrassed. Once he shortened fairways, now we're just happy if he hits them.

Let him enjoy being back in the locker room, talking trash, feeling the knot of tension and hearing his name announced. Let him hang around till Sunday so he can remember what red feels like. Let him remember what it's like to be an athlete. Golf at least owes him this much.

This week forget how long he used to drive - No. 2 in 2000 with 298 yards, No. 49 in 2013 with 293.2 - and let him just swing. Forget that silly question, Is He Back, because older athletes never return to what they were, they learn to reinvent themselves and survive with what they have.

Let's forget those split-screen swing comparisons because he still won't have his groove back yet. In practice he may be creaming the ball, but the test is finding that synchronicity under stress. These days even Serena Williams feels nervous on court, reminding us that everyone's armour rusts and vulnerability worms its way in.

This week let's forget about winning, for it's too early, though eventually, over the next few months, we'll have to talk about it. Because this is sport and he has to know, and so do we, is there anything left? Has talent dried? Is the competitive instinct still switchblade sharp, is the desire as bright as a searchlight?

Anyone who has won 79 titles on the US PGA Tour wants to be measured and he's not here to smell the gardenias. If he couldn't win he wouldn't play, for beating everyone else has always been his ultimate version of fun. So he's here, playing to prove something is left, scraping the bottom of his being for some leftover genius. And to write for himself what sport doesn't always allow its champions, which is eventually a dignified ending.

But this week, let's forget all that, let's forget the score, let's just let him play. Let's savour watching him again, this conceited, flawed, intimidating, astonishing performer, who pulled us into his magnetic field. Let him enjoy being back in the locker room, talking trash, feeling the knot of tension and hearing his name announced. Let him hang around till Sunday so he can remember what red feels like. Let him remember what it's like to be an athlete. Golf at least owes him this much.

This week let us also spare a second for Mads Sogaard and Fabien Marty, who are probably having a giggle as they photograph the world ranking chart and turn up their collars. One is Danish, the other is French, and both are ranked No. 784. Once this week is over they may not be able to boast any more that they are currently ranked just ahead of Tiger Woods.

Note: This column was published in The Straits Times before Tiger Woods announced on Monday (Oct 10) that he has pulled out of his planned comeback to the PGA Tour following a 14-month absence, adding that he would not play in this week's Safeway Open in California.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2016, with the headline 'Let's first enjoy Tiger before we expect great deeds from him'. Print Edition | Subscribe