After a nine-week absence from professional golf, during which his status as the man-to-beat at Major championships has been challenged by Phil Mickelson, he was the best man at his caddie’s wedding and he buried his beloved father, Tiger Woods is back. But it was a close-run thing.
In a candid appearance in the run-up to the US Open, being played at Winged Foot golf club in upstate New York, the world number one said the death of his father Earl last month had stilled his appetite for the game to the extent that he could hardly bring himself to step back on the course.
”I really had no desire to get back to the game of golf because a lot of the memories I have with my dad are at the golf course. It was hard going out there, late in the evenings like I always do to practise — a lot harder than I expected it to be,” Woods said. ”I’m going to always love my dad and I’ll always miss just having the chance to rap with him. Our relationship was so unique we could talk about many different things and that’s what I’ll miss most.”
Woods doesn’t do touchy-feely, at least not in front of the media, so to hear him speak in such emotional terms about his father was not just moving, it was shocking. It was equally startling to watch him almost break down when asked about his trip to New Zealand last month where he performed best-man duties at the wedding of his caddie Steve Williams.
Yet it would be wrong to mistake public displays of emotion with emotional fragility. Woods is as mentally tough as anyone who has ever played the game and, even if Tiger the loving son and friend was very much to the fore in the media conference, there were signs that Tiger the flinty competitor would be on the course, not least when he was asked about his apparently burgeoning rivalry with Mickelson.
”Well, people keep on asking me things like this. You have runs where there are different people being talked about — Ernie was there for a little bit then Vijay and then Retief. Now it is Phil. I supposed as long as I can be part of the conversation, it is never a bad thing.” As put-downs go this was as subtle as it was brutal.
Mickelson, who was adopted by the New York fans during the US Open at Bethpage in 2002, might have expected to enjoy the support of the galleries this week but the publicity surrounding the death of Woods’s father — the New York Post printed a touched-up picture of Earl Woods as a ”ghost” this week — might have tipped their sympathies towards to the world number one, although the Woods camp are taking no chances.
Nike, for one, seems rather anxious to let people know about its client’s recent loss and has made a advert featuring photographs and video footage of father and son together — images which include shots of Woods Snr cutting his son’s hair, of Woods Jnr handing his father a trophy he’d just won and of the two embracing after Woods’s victory at the 1997 Masters. The soundtrack is This Will Be Our Year, a 1960s ballad by the Zombies, and the closing frame of the ad reads: ”To Dad. And fathers everywhere.”
Nike’s sales pitch may be a bit sugary for tastes outside the United States, but the company was unrepentant, pointing out that the ad was compiled with the cooperation of Woods. ”We look for chances to give our athletes a way to make statement about themselves and now was an appropriate time for Tiger to make a statement. This is a message from Tiger and Nike to fathers everywhere.” – Ã‚