With a dominant win over a strong field at the World Golf Championships on Sunday, Tiger Woods secured the early season double of the tournaments at Doral and Torrey Pines – something which he has already done four times. Rather ominously for the rest of the golfing world, he always follows it up with a trophy-laden season. In 2005 he followed it by winning six titles – including the Masters and the Open. 2006 saw him win the Open and PGA Championships amongst his eight tournament wins, and in 2007 he won another PGA crown amongst his seven victories. This has led to many commentators to question whether we are now moving into another era of Tiger Woods dominance over the sport.
Things are looking ominous according to fellow American Steve Stricker, who commented that “his attitude and his belief in himself looks very similar to the early 2000s… or you can pick any year when he was playing great, I guess. He just seems in a better place mentally to me. He seems to be having fun, to have a lot of confidence in himself and his game”. I mean, this was no ordinary golfing performance. Woods needed just 100 putts to complete the 72-hole tournament – a statistic which helped him establish himself as the world number two again, moving to within touching distance of the spot which is synonymous with the Tiger Woods name. Rory McIlroy has hardly been in career-best form this season, with suggestions that he is struggling to adapt to his new clubs inherited as part of a massive sponsorship deal with Nike, and a mid-round walkoff citing tooth pain as the cause of what was turning into a horrendous round.
The biggest challenge to Woods’ attempt to get back on the winning trail towards Jack Nicklaus’ record of eighteen Grand Slam titles is Woods himself. Tiger Woods holds the remarkable record of having won 27% of the PGA Tour events he has entered over the course of his career. Indeed, even in this ‘barren spell’ of Woods and his inability to win at Majors, he has pushed on and won plenty of PGA Tour events, especially at courses like Torrey Pines, Bay Hill and Muirfield College – where Woods has consistently challenged throughout his career. But where Tiger has been ruthless on the course, he has been toothless in the majors. One cannot help but believe however, that if Woods finds a way to take a lead heading into the final day of a major this year, it would take a phenomenon to catch him. Woods is ready to let the golfing world remember why half of the tour fall apart when he is on the prowl.
Rather fittingly, the rivalry that many are itching to see could well be coming to a beautiful head with Rory McIlroy re-discovering his swing this week. He appears to be ready to compete at the highest level again, rather than walk off mid-round claiming toothache. The golfing world can only await with bated breath at the possibility they may see the resurgent Tiger Woods, seeking redemption from the golfing world and a crucial return to major-winning ways, tee off against an in-form McIlroy – one of the few golfers at the top of the game with the talent to match Woods, and without the damaged-confidence of a victim of the Tiger-of-old prowl up the leaderboard on the last two rounds of a major. Can Woods return to the pinnacle of his sport? Can McIlroy cement his place at the top of the game? The Masters hit Augusta next month, and with both players returning to something shadowing their best; we may very well see this tantalising rivalry emerge.