Ever since his SUV came off second best in a battle with a tree outside his house, it must have felt like the world was against Tiger Woods. People who had scarcely heard of him queued up to call him a degenerate; a pervert; an excuse for a man. Even his attempt at seeking forgiveness was ripped to shreds.
His infamous apology for his “transgressions” was ridiculed. ‘He wasn’t sincere’, ‘He hammed it up’, ‘I don’t like his shirt’ were among the excessive ‘kicking him while he’s down’ criticisms aimed at him. Yes, it must really have felt like the world was on his back.
This year’s Masters is the first time the metaphor truly gets transferred to the golf course. At 3.35pm on Thursday, Tiger will tee off from a position plenty doubted he would ever see again – the favourite to win a Masters.
The undisputed superstar of his era, versus the massed ranks of the hopefuls from Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Of course he’s played against these players since the night Elin took that opportune look at his mobile phone.
But the defeats he took can’t have felt right to the victors. It was undoubtedly nice for Westwood, Donald, McIlroy et al to hold aloft their hard-earned over-sized trophies, but vanquishing an in-form and focussed Tiger would have made it far sweeter.
Charge of the English contingent
Now is the chance and in particular, the stage is set for the English contingent to come to the majors fore. It’s been 16 years since the green jacket was slipped onto the shoulders of Nick Faldo and the frustration is starting to show.
With three players in the world’s Top 10 and six in the world’s Top 50, it feels about time that a Saxon claims a Masters title. Rarely in the last couple of decades have they have so many golfers who look capable of claiming one of golf’s big four prizes. It’s about time to deliver.
In recent days, Nick Faldo bemoaned the fact that none of the current crop of English players had sought his advice about what’s required to win majors. Ian Poulter, speaking with uncharacteristic good sense, responded by making the point what’s right for Nick wasn’t necessarily applicable for himself or his contemporaries.
Faldo had that iron will to prevail, but sharing advice and late night bottles of Chardonnay with this generation doesn’t mean they’ll be any better equipped to claim major glory.
World number one Luke Donald has been astonishingly consistent over a long period of time and he has real chance. It’s fact not lost on punters as he has been backed into 13/1 from 16/1 in the build-up to Augusta. Justin Rose has developed into another consistent performer and a surge of bets has seen him contract to 28/1 from 33/1.
Lee Westwood has come heartbreakingly close on so many occasions his life story is guarantee to feature in some sort of Hollywood biopic which teaches us about perseverance in the face of multiple set-backs.
People are persevering with the Worksop Wonder however and at 20/1 he’ll blow a big hole in the Paddy Power balance sheet if he lands his maiden major this time around.
The rest of the world wants a cut too
Beyond the home of the white cliffs of Dover, there are more than enough contenders gunning for Tiger. The apparent animosity between Woods and Phil Mickelson is something largely constructed for the benefit of the subplots to events on the tour, but that doesn’t mean Lefty wouldn’t savour beating his old foe when his playing his best stuff.
The likes of Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk and even Freddie Couples had to watch on as Tiger dominated the game for the last few years. They’d equally love to slay a fit and healthy Woods.
There’s a whole host of players who think they’ve got the game to beat Woods. Not for the first time in recent years, he’ll feel like a marked man and it’s up to him to fend off the challengers.