It seems crazy that one of the news headlines after the weekend highlighted the runner up finish of a professional golfer. Normally the winner basks in the glory with those trailing behind struggling to get any recognition. But the runner up at the Valspar Championship at the Innisbrook Resort, Palm Beach, wasn’t just any player. It was Tiger Woods, probably the world’s most famous golfer, second only to Jack Nicklaus in terms of the most majors won.
Only four weeks back Tiger returned to the PGA Tour after another round of back surgery. He was now in his 40s. In the first two events he played after his return his golf was OK. Last week it was much better as he tied for 8th at the Honda Classic. Could it be? Was Tiger on the verge of a return to his once mighty powers?
After 3 rounds at the Valspar Championship Tiger Woods was in second place and the golf world was tingling. After Tiger confirmed that he’d play in the Valspar on March 2 his effect was immediate. Reports claimed an extra 6,000 car spaces were acquired for the event, extra buses were called for, an extra 160 portable toilets hired. The event website server needed extra server space and the Media Centre was doubled in size for a clambering media there for just one thing - Tiger Mania. It’s said an extra 40,000 spectators poured through the gates. Television ratings spiked. Was it any coincidence that Tiger had risen again and we’re approaching Easter?
I watched the last round, glued to the TV set, egging Tiger on. With two holes to play he was two behind someone. That someone was in the Clubhouse waiting to see if anyone could force a tie, but the tough course kept claiming victims and only Tiger and some other bloke had a chance to force a playoff.
On seventeen Tiger took aim at the par three and left his ball about 45 feet away from the hole. He needed to make the putt for any chance to claim an 80th PGA title, something that a month earlier seemed further away that that other holy holiday.
In his red shirt Tiger surveyed the ground and was I seeing things - was he stalking the putt? He aimed, he struck the swoosh on his ball and it tracked the hole. At perfect pace it edged closer, the commentators gasp – it couldn’t drop could it? It did. The noise from my lounge room was just surpassed by the massive crowds that encircled the 17th green, cheering, screaming and hooting like only the American crowds can. Tiger smiled, the whole golfing world was beaming. Tiger was back!
A repeat of this mammoth putt was needed at 18 but he came up short, parred the hole and tied second with someone else, one shot behind the guy that won.
Augusta approaches, Easter approaches and Tiger has risen. Any coincidence that golf is in the news again for someone finishing second?
(BTW – England’s Paul Casey won the event with a closing round of 65 that included just 21 putts! America’s Patrick Reed shared second place with Tiger and Sergio Garcia finished in fourth. The best placed Australian was Adam Scott in a tie for 16th with twelve others. But who cares?)
By Garry Kennedy