Most golf fans have forgotten how good Tiger actually was

Last year I was regularly asked by friends if I ever thought that Tiger Woods would win a tournament or even be competitive again, writes John McHenry.

Most golf fans have forgotten how good Tiger actually was

My answer to both was a definitive yes, provided he was sufficiently motivated and his body was fit. I even went one further. I said that I could also see him winning major championships again — a suggestion that generated more chuckles of incredulity than anything else.

You see, most golf fans have already forgotten how good Tiger actually was. Here’s a guy who has won 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour victories and is the arguably the second-best golfer in history. And despite all of his back surgeries (4), he has still consistently strived to come back.

Why? Because he feels he still has more to offer and he wants to finish his career on his terms.

In his prime, Tiger was the complete package, a man who really only competed against himself while everyone else played for second place.

The hardest thing for people to understand, who weren’t out there when Tiger was at the peak of his powers, is how much of an aura he carried with him. He could drive the ball further than most and putt better than anyone else but his greatest asset was always his mind.

His attitude was so intense that he didn’t always have to beat you. The intimidation was that he never lost when he was leading on Sunday, so he made you feel like you had to play some heroic round.

In the end, you invariably beat yourself and already in his comeback we have seen that no one is going to impact his ability to do what he does best on the golf course — to mentally grind out the best possible result.

After all these years, he is still the strongest competitor out there. His rivals know it too and his early season stats are impressive. He’s averaging 304.2 yards in driving distance, good for 37th on the PGA Tour.

But he’s No. 6 in scoring average (69.474), ahead of Phil Mickelson, Rory McIlroy and Bubba Watson.

For the likes of his greatest rival, the 47-year-old Phil Mickelson, who recently won the WGC in Mexico after a four-year drought, Tiger’s strong comeback is a source of inspiration as he has always felt that a competitive Tiger has always brought out his best and forced him to work harder and to focus to ultimately achieve his success.

Rory McIlroy has never competed with Woods in his prime or even when he was a major championship contender but he is fully aware of his towering presence and has readily spoken about his awe for his achievements in the game of golf.

Generous comments indeed for a man, Rory knew on form, he could beat, almost intimidate, anytime anywhere.

But this week, a fired up and competitive Woods is a completely different animal around Augusta.

For Woods who has seen numerous rivals come and go during his time on the PGA Tour, McIlroy may indeed be his greatest threat given his recent win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and his current putting form, but Tiger knows that he will have to deal with his own “grand slam” aspirations and a certain second coming of “Tigermania” if he is to prevail.

Twenty-one years after he first shook the game’s landscape with his record-breaking victory in the Masters, Tiger will be thrilled that he is once again transcending the sport. To come back as strongly as he has, has caught the public’s imagination.

Television ratings are off the charts — the Valspar (where he finished 2nd) numbers were 136% better than last year, attendances for the tournaments he is participating in are the best they’ve been in years and advance ticket sales are up 40-50%.

Beyond television, there is the business of golf, and no player affects consumer behaviour more than Woods.

Take for example, Woods’ Bridgestone golf ball. Woods’ previously accounted for 15% of Bridgestone sales — now it’s over 40%. And the fat “B” – that can be recognised on the ball is some fantastic TV product placement.

Fans in their droves have come back to watch him tee it up once again at Augusta — a venue where has won four times (1997, 2001, 2002, 2005) and everyone knows he’s dying for another one. It’s been too long.

On a course that is uniquely set up for his skills, Tiger, the competitor, wants to write yet another new script for himself and his perfectly timed sharpening of his game is sure to make this Masters one of the most anticipated ever.

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