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A cut above: Tiger’s influence on the game is unabated

It will be wrong to expect too much from him at the Bahamas

Gulf News

It really is one of the most anticipated weeks in golf — Tiger Woods is finally making his comeback after nearly 16 months away from the game.

I don’t expect much from the 14-time major champion, at least not during the Hero World Challenge. Even for a player of his stature, one does need time to get into match shape. He has given his body a lot of time to get where it is now physically, and I am sure he will be able to hit some of his amazing shots. And yet, we all know taking the game from the driving range, or friendly practice rounds, to the actual cauldron of competition golf, takes a big mental leap. Sixteen months away from high-level golf does chip away at your confidence.

But let’s not debate his form and how he will be on the golf course. The most important thing is that he is back. And believe me, if you ask a thousand professional golfers, organisers, sponsors and television channels across the globe, each one of them will agree that his active presence is as vital today, as it was in the 2000s when he was dominating every event he entered.

I have only heard stories of how the legendary Arnold Palmer influenced golf but I never experienced it. But I have been part of the Tiger generation and have personally seen what he means to modern golf. It would be fantastic if we have a Tiger who is playing like his former self, contending every time he tees up, but I am equally happy with a Tiger who can still inspire and motivate millions just by his sheer presence.

Given the limited size of the field, some people think it is a nice, easy start for him, but let’s not forget that the remaining 17 players are absolutely the cream of world golf. You’ve got Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson among others. This will be a serious test for Tiger to find out where his game really is.

Meanwhile, action begins on the European Tour with a rare double-header — the Australian PGA Championship Down Under and the Alfred Dunhill Championship in South Africa.

The Tour superstars are not going to travel long distances to take part in the two tournaments this late in the year, but the co-sanctioning of the event gives the home tour players a great chance to make their mark.

I will sorely miss Alfred Dunhill, which is held at one of my favourite golf courses — Leopard Creek. I love the amazing wildlife you get to see while playing there.

I think the best storyline in weeks like this is when one of the homegrown heroes, who is either not a member of the European Tour, or if he is struggling to keep his card, wins. Let’s hope it plays out like that.

(Jeev Milkha Singh is a four-time champion on the European Tour)