Last week, without doubt, was a big deal for world golf. Tiger Woods made his comeback to competitive golf, and even though there wasn’t a fairytale win in his first outing after 16 long months, finishing 15th at the Hero World Challenge was way beyond everything that was expected of him.
A majority of fans, and critics, expected to see a rusty Tiger – one that would struggle to chip (there were stories that he delayed his comeback because of chipping yips) – backing away from difficult shots and who would not possess the desired clubhead speed while hitting his shots because he was still trying to protect his back.
Obviously, Woods himself did not help matters. He had pulled out of Safeway Open saying his game felt “vulnerable” at that point, and he then went about re-branding his business to TGR and saying he was entering the “next chapter”. That was enough to fuel speculation that the 14-time major champion was already looking at life after golf.
But the Woods that turned out at Albany Golf Club was one that raises visions of an exciting 2017. It was vintage Tiger, really. He was ripping it down the fairways, he was chipping in and fist-pumping and he was pouring in putts from distances that we were so used to seeing.
Of course, he made a lot of mistakes too. Six double bogeys hurt his chances badly, but the exciting part was the fact that he most the most number of birdies in the tournament – 24, which was three more than champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Going forward, two things will be key for Woods – his schedule in 2017, and the equipment he chooses to use.
It was clear that Woods was not the most comfortable with his Nike Method 001 putter, and the moment he was allowed to switch his clubs, he reached out for his trusty 1996 Scotty Cameron Newport, and the Newport 2 GSS, the putter with which he won 13 major titles.
This could just be the perfect opportunity for Woods to assemble a set that he is most comfortable with. He really doesn’t need the money from a massive equipment deal, and with Nike shutting down its equipment business, this is his best chance to do that.
Secondly, Woods needs to prepare a good schedule – one that lets him play more events and yet gives him the chance to allow his body to get enough rest. By his own admission, Woods said he requires almost two to three hours with his physio to wind down after a day’s round.
There is a distinct possibility he could be adding either the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship or the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to his schedule in 2017.
If it happens, there could be no better start to the new season.
SECRET OF MUKESH’S SUCCESS
On Sunday, India’s Mukesh Kumar finally broke through on international scene, winning the Panasonic Open on the Asian Tour.
It was the 123rd career title for the 51-year-old, who became the oldest winner on the Asian Tour. Those other 122 wins all came on the domestic Indian tour, where he has been a force to reckon with for the last 32 years.
When I was working with the Indian Tour as its media manager, I once had a very interesting conversation with Mukesh, who hails from a small central Indian town called Mhow. That’s when he revealed the secret of his success.
Mhow is an army cantonment town and has a small non-descript golf course.
Mukesh spent his childhood, hitting balls at the driving range, which he said had no grass, and the dirt was full of small stones. Every now and then, the club would jar his hands violently.
Mukesh became so good playing in those conditions; he now counts his blessings whichever golf course he goes and plays now.
“The first time I hit shots from a patch of grass, I thought it was the easiest thing to do.
“Today, whenever I play on a good golf course as a professional, I consider myself lucky. At least I won’t injure my hands,” he explains.
How simple is that?
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“When I saw that he was four-under through eight holes, I wanted to withdraw so I could go watch him.”
– Fellow competitor Russell Knox, after he saw Tiger’s name on the leaderboard on the opening round of the Hero World Challenge.
“My phone was pretty heated this week leading up to the first round. But it went from heated to hot.”
– Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg on the interest shown by global sponsors and organisers in his client after a successful comeback.
Austrian Max Zechmann, a former caddie on the European Tour, collapsed on the 13th fairway at Emirates Golf Club and received on-site treatment from the medical team before being taken to hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
The 55-year-old Zechmann is understood to have retired in 2014 and settled in Dubai. Among his former players are Austrian Marcus Brier.
Here, we picked out tweets from stunned friends of Max.
Thomas Bjorn, one of the most selfless servants of the European Tour, has finally been rewarded with captaincy of the Ryder Cup team when they try to win it back from the United States in Paris in 2018.
And at 45 years of age, he has been handed the job at the most appropriate time – absolutely confirming with the winning formula of Europe for several years before the loss at Hazeltine this year.
The fact that Bjorn would be the next captain was almost a gimme. He has earned his stripes on the golf course as a fantastic competitor, one of the longest serving players’ representative and also for being the vice-captain of the European Ryder Cup for as many as four times.
It was a unanimous decision by the five-man selection panel comprising three recent past captains Darren Clarke, Paul McGinley and Jose Maria Olazabal; European Tour Chief Executive, Keith Pelley, and European Tour Tournament Committee member Henrik Stenson.
Clarke and Olazabal would have seen Bjorn’s work from close quarters as he was their vice-captain in 2016 and 2012 respectively, apart from assisting Bernhard Langer as early as in 2004, and Colin Montgomerie in 2010.
Considering Clarke and Olazabal both voted for Bjorn, clearly shows they have been impressed with what the Great Dane brings to the table.
As a Ryder Cup player, Bjorn made a winning debut in 1997 at Valderrama under the inspirational captaincy of the legendary Seve Ballesteros, and was also in the winning teams in 2002 at The Belfry and 2014 at Gleneagles.
But one of the most important roles Bjorn has played – and this also brought him close to the rank and file of the European Tour – is as Chairman of the Tournament Committee since 2007. He will finally give up that role after being appointed captain.
Looking at the record, only one player has had more intense involvement with the winning history of European team – and that is Lee Westwood.
Bjorn’s experience – given that he has served under six different winning European team captains – and his connect with the players are definitely the two biggest factors that worked for him.
McGinley thought Bjorn’s biggest strength was his ability to communicate.
“He’s very happy to sit down with players and vice-captains for long discussions, and that’s a core key to being a successful Ryder Cup captain,” the Irishman said following the announcement.
It all cannot be pros and I am sure the committee would have thought about a couple of personality issues that is normally associated with Bjorn.
Wow. Truly honoured to be 2018 @RyderCupEurope captain. I cant wait for next 20+ months. Today is the greatness day of my career - so far 😉— Thomas Bjørn (@thomasbjorngolf) December 6, 2016
The first is that he is a straight talker and tact is not usually his biggest plus point. And secondly, he is also known for his short fuse, although many players have told me that he has tempered down a bit lately.
I’d think of the first negative as a huge positive for a leader. The second can be a bit tricky.
Among other names who could have been discussed as contenders, Padraig Harrington would have been a strong one. However, the Irishman is definitely better suited for a stint in an away Ryder Cup, given his immense popularity in the United States.
And there is also the fact that Harrington has recently been in the winning circle, so he would definitely prefer to qualify for the team in 2018.
With the growing strength of American team, Bjorn will have his task cut out at Le National. One thing he should make sure is not too veer too much from what has worked so far.
Hazeltine was a defeat obviously, but the European system is not yet broken.