Jack Nicklaus always said that the day he became purely a ceremonial golfer, he would retire.
Tiger Woods’ fear was rooted more deeply in modern technology. YouTube. That was what disturbed him. The thought that his children would only know his talent from laptop clips; that it would be a distant, intangible thing they would press play to see; that it could be placed on pause and forgotten, much like his career.
‘A lot of times they equated golf to pain,’ Woods said of his children Sam, 10, and Charlie, nine. ‘Every time I did it, I would hurt. I hadn’t won any tournaments they could remember.’
Tiger Woods returned to winning ways on Sunday evening with his first title since 2013
Most children want to make their parents proud. After the very public and lurid collapse of his marriage, for Woods it was the other way around. For obvious reasons, he wants them to see their father at his best. Not just as daddy, but as a man the world looks to, and admires; who is good at his job.
It is impossible to separate the personal from the professional in his story because his struggle to play again cuts to the core of Woods’ existence, to more than what remained of his career. This was not a question of whether he could win a major, or even a tournament, but of whether he could strike a golf ball again. Just for fun, not financial reward or glory.
Woods wasn’t troubled by lost earnings on the senior tour, but of losing the essence of his being. Imagine Cristiano Ronaldo unable to kick a football again — not even in the back garden, with his kids. That is where Woods was, a year ago.
Jimmy Greaves believes alcoholism robbed him of memory. ‘I know I was good at football, because people often tell me,’ he said. ‘It’s just that I can’t remember what it felt like.’ Injury tormented Woods the same way — stole from him, left him bereft.
‘The low point was not knowing if I’d ever be able to live pain-free again,’ he admitted. ‘Am I going to be able to sit, stand, walk, lay down, without feeling the pain?
‘I didn’t want to live that way. This is how the rest of my life is going to be? It’s going to be a tough rest of my life. I was beyond playing. That was a pretty low point, and for a very long time.’
The former world No 1 has come back from career-threatening injuries to win his 80th title
So this is more than just a comeback trail, more than just the shrugging off of old wounds. Sport is full of tales of athletes performing heroically under extremes of physical pain. Greg Louganis won an Olympic gold medal for diving having struck his head on a board in the preliminaries and suffered concussion. Mario Lemieux played ice hockey for the Pittsburgh Penguins on his last day of radiotherapy for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and went on to finish NHL top scorer that year.
Bert Trautmann completed the 1956 FA Cup final for Manchester City with a broken neck. Niki Lauda missed just two grands prix after his horrendous crash at Nurburgring in 1976. Ben Hogan won six of his nine majors after a serious car accident in 1949. Yet even by those standards Woods’ comeback is remarkable.
His condition was not temporary, and was not considered curable. Many times he had tried and failed to recover and by the time he made this final attempt, his time was believed done. Golf was post-Tiger. ‘Do you think Tiger Woods’ competitive career is effectively over now?’ ESPN asked on February 15, 2017: 84 per cent said yes. Note, career. Not his potential to win majors, or even minor PGA events.
Woods was written off for a place at the rear of the field, missing the cut, 12 over par. That was the year he pulled out of the US Masters for a third time in four editions, attended the Champions Dinner and could barely sit down. He was spoken of in the past tense. Dustin Johnson was asked when he knew he could become the world’s No 1 golfer. ‘When Tiger stopped playing,’ he said, an answer that did not suggest this status was fluid.
Niki Lauda missed just two grands prix after his horrendous crash at Nurburgring in 1976
Woods hit an all-time low when he was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence in May, 2017
So, what we are seeing is not just any old sporting glory story, either.
Liverpool came back from 3-0 down to win a Champions League final but someone had to one day — just as Manchester United’s two injury-time goals in the same event were bound to happen sooner or later. We’ve all seen teams blow a three-goal lead, or win a match with the last kick. It’s not entirely out of the blue.
Jonny Wilkinson’s points to win a Rugby World Cup, the Tom Brady Super Bowl in 2017. These were epic moments. Yet watch enough sport and you’ll witness them. The five-set Grand Slam finals. The Test matches decided in the last over. Yet there’s never been a show like Lazarus, and Woods is golf’s Lazarus man.
Nicklaus went six years without a major before becoming the oldest player to win one, at the age of 46, but nobody had told him it would not be possible. That is what is different about Woods’ return. We are seeing something we thought could never happen.
Leicester winning the Premier League title in 2016; Woods winning the Tour Championship in 2018. So very different in many ways — it is hard to think of Woods as David, and not Goliath — but with similarity.
Both events had been dismissed as impossible. No club of Leicester’s size could triumph in our modern football world and no player with Woods’ back condition could overcome so much adversity, and a field of younger, fitter men. And then, it happened. Leicester held their nerve.
Woods hugs his children Sam (right) and Charlie at the Masters at Augusta in April 2015
Woods arrived at East Lake in Atlanta on Sunday, in the garb of the best and baddest golfer on the planet once more. His black cap-sleeved vest showed off his bulging biceps, the brim of his baseball cap was flipped to the back of his neck, and in his right hand, that famous red shirt. Red for action, red for danger, red for back.
It was 2008 when Woods suffered a double stress fracture of his left tibia two weeks before the US Open. He was prescribed three weeks on crutches, followed by three weeks’ rest.
‘I’m playing the US Open, and I’m going to win,’ he told Hank Haney, his swing coach. Haney recalls thinking there was no chance. ‘He couldn’t walk from the dining room table to the refrigerator without stopping in his tracks for 30 seconds,’ he said. Woods got there.
After four days and 72 holes at Torrey Pines, he was tied with Rocco Mediate in first place. US Open play-offs lasted 18 holes back then, and the pair went 19 the following day before Woods triumphed on a torn anterior cruciate ligament and double stress fracture. It remains one of the most astonishing triumphs in modern sport, yet still dwindles compared to this. Sam and Charlie now know what their daddy does. He does the impossible.
Serena Williams took four questions on that incident in a fawningly staged television interview before she gave a forlorn look sideways and her publicist tried to shut it down.
‘Are you comfortable?’ simpered Lisa Wilkinson from Australia’s Channel 10, asking the questions. ‘I’m in your hands, Serena, I’m totally in your hands.’ The voiceover took up the story: ‘To her credit, Serena decided to continue.’
The interviewer then cleared herself for one final question on the US Open final controversy — tame and utterly serving to the Williams cause, about the male tennis players who came out on her side. And there’s the reality.
Not that Williams’s life is a constant struggle against sexism and racism as her apologists claim, but that these days she is permanently protected by fawning sycophants who indulge her every action, which is probably why she reacts so abysmally when challenged.
All sympathy should be with umpire Carlos Ramos, still.
Serena Williams (right) during her interview with Lisa Wilkinson from Australia’s Channel 10
Zaha is the tip of the iceberg
Timothy Fosu-Mensah committed two bad tackles for Fulham against Watford on Saturday. The first was worthy of a yellow card, the second, on Troy Deeney, of a straight red.
The referee, Martin Atkinson, gave him nothing, and then a yellow. A third of what he deserved.
The same with Joe Ralls of Cardiff, who could have broken the leg of Ilkay Gundogan, by most accounts the best player on the field, in the match against Manchester City. He should have been sent off, instead he was booked by Michael Oliver — so 50 per cent of what was necessary.
It isn’t just Wilfried Zaha who is being mistreated.
We play a version of the rules in this country and skilled players throughout the Premier League are betrayed by our officials.
Timothy Fosu-Mensah should have seen red for his tackle on Watford striker Troy Deeney
Pogba’s attack of the moans
Attack, attack, attack, says Paul Pogba. Well, yes, at Old Trafford that has certainly been the Manchester United way. He omits to mention, however, that it was not simply a failure to get forward that cost United against Wolves on Saturday. United were leading, however narrowly, when one of their players over-complicated the play, blind, was caught in possession by Ruben Neves, and Wolves equalised.
So, while attack is one way of winning matches, a little bit of care is another.
As Jose Mourinho may feel motivated to mention.
Paul Pogba wants Manchester United to attack, but bad defending cost them against Wolves
Dull Fury must bide his time for Joshua
You can’t blame a guy for trying but Frank Warren’s claim that Tyson Fury would merit a 50-50 split of any purse from a fight with Anthony Joshua is so audacious, it’s a surprise he wasn’t cast for a role in that film about the Hatton Garden heist.
Joshua is the bearer of so many belts he struggles to lift them, while Fury’s sole boast is to be the No 1 bogeyman and lineal champion — two titles that do not enjoy a finite presence.
Lineal champion can supposedly be traced back to the first of all, John L Sullivan, but with the division so fractured is an increasingly empty claim. Sullivan lost to James J Corbett, who was beaten by Bob Fitzsimmons, who lost to James J Jeffries and on we go from 1885 to the present day.
It seems simple: the man who beats the man who beats the man. Yet leaps of faith are also required.
Lennox Lewis, for instance, retired as champion in 2004. Wladimir Klitschko was announced the new lineal champion in 2009, bridging five years in which Chris Byrd, Roy Jones Jnr, Corrie Sanders, John Ruiz, Lamon Brewster, Vitali Klitschko, Hasim Rahman, Nikolai Valuev, Siarhei Liakhovich, Oleg Maskaev, Shannon Briggs, Ruslan Chagaev, Sultan Ibragimov and Samuel Peter — as well as Wladimir Klitschko — had all been declared heavyweight champion by various governing bodies. Klitschko’s elevation involved beating Chagaev to hold the WBA, IBF, WBO and The Ring belts — but that isn’t all of them.
Tyson Fury wants a 50-50 split purse from any fight with Anthony Joshua, says Frank Warren
Lineal is far from undisputed. And Wladimir Klitschko never fought, let alone beat, Lewis — whereas Rahman did, before losing a rematch.
So the whole thing is utterly confused, including Fury’s lineal claim, having defeated Klitschko.
For while Fury has not since lost his titles in the ring, he most certainly did lose them — whether relinquished or stripped from him, as a result of a hiatus that was in part due to a failed drugs test.
We cannot pretend that dereliction of duty did not happen. Put it like this: if Fury had a visible belt, he would brandish that, rather than utilise the smoke and mirrors of lineal glory. And while Fury is a gift on social media, he is a dull boxer compared to Joshua, whose last three fights have been watched live by close to 250,000 people.
Joshua has given the heavyweight division its present credibility, saved it from drug cheats and circus shows. He is the draw here, Fury the foil.
That doesn’t mean he wins — Joshua is certainly vulnerable and Fury, on his game, a shrewd fighter — but it does afford him the bigger purse if the match is made. If Fury does not like that he can offer his lineal crown up to the highest bidder, and see who will pay better money for it.
Maurizio Sarri has been here all of two complete months, so naturally he feels entitled to pontificate on the English game. Why, the Chelsea manager asks — while not at all seeking excuses after the first dropped points of the season — couldn’t matches be played on the Monday after the Europa League. They are in Italy, after all.
And he has a point. Chelsea could have visited West Ham on Monday night, and pushed their Carabao Cup fixture with Liverpool back from Wednesday to, er, this Thursday. That means, of course, that Chelsea’s other meeting with Liverpool in the Premier League on Saturday would have to revert to, by Sarri’s logic, Monday, giving their opponents a full 12 hours to recover before boarding the plane for an away fixture at Napoli, scheduled for Wednesday.
So, if Sarri wants to manage the Italian way, a humble suggestion would be that he returns to Italy where he can plot the fixtures to his heart’s content. Alternately, he gets on with it, until he can see further than a 0-0 draw with West Ham.
Maurizio Sarri is already telling the Premier League to make changes to their packed schedule
Wilfried Zaha was not at his best for Crystal Palace on Saturday, following his criticism of referees the previous week. ‘Was his outburst to blame?’ echoed his manager Roy Hodgson. ‘I can’t answer that, but we never muzzle free speech here.’
This last statement may come as a surprise to those who recall Hodgson and Gary Neville’s England regime. Suffice to say if the defence had muzzled Iceland as effectively as England’s management muzzled free speech, that pair would still be in a job.