We all knew it was only going to be a matter of time: it was always a question of when, not if, Tiger Woods would rediscover something remotely resembling form. It would appear that the time has now finally come.
For the best part of three years, the newly reinstated world number one cut a feeble and forlorn figure, unable to pinpoint exactly what the problems still persisting in his previously flawless game were. Putters were changed, blamed and praised in turn. Tiger was seldom seen without a frustrated, puzzled or disappointed expression. It was almost tragic to watch such an incredible performer going through such struggles, and golf fans increasingly began to side with the disgraced former hero once again.
Lest we forget, this is a man who once dominated the sport like no other ever has done before. A man who has spent considerably longer at the top of the world rankings than any other. A man who once won the US Open by an unprecedented fifteen-stroke margin. Listing his remarkable feats would last even longer than a round of golf, but suffice to say that Tiger’s fall from grace was pretty spectacular to say the least.
Now, thanks to a series of tournament wins and a downturn in Rory McIlroy’s form, he’s back in the world number one spot which used to be his own. McIlroy is the closest to Tiger in terms of ability and has the potential to dominate the field in a similar manner, but his self-destruction as soon as he reached golf’s summit and Tiger turned up the heat simply underlines how, for the time being at least, he was occupying a position that doesn’t rightly belong to him – Tiger is the undisputed world’s best.
Indeed, Tiger’s hiatus and loss of form left something of a power vacuum in golf: since he won the US Open in 2008, the 18 subsequent Majors have brought 16 different winners, with only Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy winning twice. No one has been able to seize the initiative and fill those enormous shoes.
The crucial question which remains: can Tiger now go on to surpass Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championship wins and thus become the undisputed best of all time? Like those who insist Lionel Messi needs to win a World Cup, the only detractors of his claim to such a prestigious status are those who point solely to solid silverware.
Tiger is currently on 14 Majors, and needs only five more to overhaul Nicklaus. Again, it strikes me as an inevitability.
At the relatively tender age of 37, he still has several years at the top level of golf ahead of him. He certainly possesses the kind of confidence and talent to kick on now that he is finally back in the swing of things. Five more Majors really ought to be a doddle. He may even resume that quest at the Masters in a fortnight’s time, as he’s certainly better placed to win it than he has been at any other Major since his downfall. He will go into the tournament as the strong favourite, and rightly so given his recent return to form.
Whether he can regain his very best form and go on to dominate golf again in the way that he did at the turn of the century is another matter: he’s certainly lost the aura he once had, and the likes of McIlroy and co will only continue to grow further.
Don’t expect to see Tiger blow away the field quite like that again, but do expect him to cement his status as the world’s greatest ever golfer. Tiger, welcome back to the big time.