It was supposed to be the week of comebacks, but the recent decision by Tiger Woods to prolong his hiatus has ruined it all.
There would have been three much-anticipated returns – Woods at the Safeway Open after nearly 14 months of absence; Jose Maria Olazabal at the British Masters after 18 months of struggling with back and joint pains, and Ian Poulter, who has been out of action with a right foot injury since May end.
Despite glowing reviews of the state of his game by Jesper Parnevik, Woods still thinks his shot-making remains ‘vulnerable’ in match conditions.
A lot has been written about him pulling out – including that he has developed stage fright, and that he is actually scared after watching how brilliant the current stars are when he had an up close look at them during the Ryder Cup.
Even more ludicrous are the suggestions that he is waiting to sign a new equipment deal before returning to action. It’s ridiculous to think that the 14-time major champion – easily one of the greatest players ever in the history of sport – is running scared.
But he definitely does not want to embarrass himself, and his fans, by returning at 90 per cent of his abilities. That’s what happened the last time – remember all those fluffed chips last year? They were clear indication that Woods wasn’t sharp enough when he made his first comeback from the microdiscectomy.
We have waited 14 months for Tiger’s return, I think it would be prudent to give him a couple more.
Having said that, I don’t agree with his agent Mark Steinberg’s comments that Woods also pulled out of the Turkish Airlines Open in November first week because he thought it wasn’t appropriate for him to play his comeback event on a non-PGA Tour event.
If that is the case, then Woods has become extremely image conscious. He will still get a seven-figure appearance fee playing outside the USA and does not want to appear motivated by money. But he is a world icon, and a return in any part of the globe would have been welcome.
Poulter is facing the opposite situation. He is missing this week’s British Masters on the European Tour, a tournament that he hosted last year at Woburn, and instead playing the Macau Open on the Asian Tour.
Obviously, his fans would have liked to see the Englishman in action at The Grove this week, but Poulter has a simple explanation. He has got 10 starts on the PGA Tour to secure his card and he wants to give them his best possible shot.
His focus right now is the PGA Tour’s CIMB Classic next week in Kuala Lumpur. Macau gives him the perfect opportunity to acclimatize in the Asian conditions, and his travel time to Malaysia is greatly reduced, giving him more time to practice.
It is a wise decision by Poulter, even though it may seem a bit selfish. But he has got to do what’s best for his game.
DJ DESERVES THE GONG
From having been forced to take a leave of absence in 2014 to sort out issues in his life, to becoming the PGA Tour Player of the Year for 2016, Dustin Johnson has come a long way in a short span of time.
The 32-year-old has won at least one PGA Tour event every year since his rookie season in 2008, which is the longest active streak on the Tour, but 2016 was a breakthrough year as he won three big tournaments, including his first major at the US Open.
It really was a stellar year for Johnson, who has been often accused of choking when in contention in big tournaments. That wasn’t the case for him this year, winning the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone Invitational and BMW Championship, apart from the US Open.
Johnson finished second in the FedEx Cup, losing the $10 million bonus on the final day of the season to Rory McIlroy, but won the Arnold Palmer Award as the leading money-winner ($9,365,185), and also took home the Byron Nelson Award for Adjusted Scoring Average (69.172). In 22 starts, he had 15 top-10s.
There is no denying DJ’s elevated status in the sport and I just hope he opens up about his ‘leave of absence’ and clears up the big black cloud hovering over all his achievements. For him to come back in such a stunning manner – there is a hugely motivational story there. I think he owes that much to his fans.