Martin Dempster: Delay won’t help Tiger Woods’ comeback

Tiger Woods will return to action in California this week after a 14-month absence. Picture: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty
Tiger Woods will return to action in California this week after a 14-month absence. Picture: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty
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There’s no chance now of Tiger Woods ever getting the same award handed out to Colin Montgomerie earlier this year for the big Scot having been so accommodating – most of the time, anyway – to the golf writing fraternity over the years. Not after Woods left us all in the same boat around 8pm last night.

Columns about his expected comeback this week had long been filed when that was scrapped. He’s out of the Safeway Open, the opening event on the new 2016-17 PGA Tour season, in California. Shelved, too, is a planned appearance in next month’s Turkish Airlines Open in Belek. He’s still hoping to play in the Hero World Challenge, his foundation’s event, in the Bahamas in December, but don’t bet on it. After all, Tiger is scared he’s going to make a fool of himself when he finally returns to action for the first time since last August, and could we really ever have imagined that being the case? Definitely not.

“After a lot of soul searching and honest reflection, I know that I am not yet ready to play on the PGA Tour or compete in Turkey,” he said in a statement that was met with much gnashing of teeth after carefully-crafted columns had been written earlier in the day on the back of Woods having officially entered the Safeway Open just before the 5pm deadline last Friday. “My health is good, and I feel strong, but my game is vulnerable and not where it needs to be.

“When I announced last week I was going to Safeway, I had every intention of playing, or I wouldn’t have committed. I spent a week with the US Ryder Cup team [he was one of Davis Love’s vice-captains 
at Hazeltine], an honour and experience that inspired me even more to play. I practised the last several days in California, but after a lot of hours, I knew I wasn’t ready to compete against the best golfers in the world. I will continue to work hard, and plan to play at my foundation’s event, the Hero World Challenge, in Albany.

“I would like to apologise and 
send my regrets to Safeway, the Turkish Airlines Open, the fans in California and Turkey and those that had hoped to watch me compete on TV. This isn’t what I wanted to happen, but I will continue to strive to be able to play tournament golf. I’m close, and I won’t stop until I get there.”

That’s good to hear, but what the heck just happened? Friday was the time for him to say he’d decided not to return in the Safeway Open, not Monday. So, what happened in three days? It could well have been how Woods played in a foundation event at Pebble Beach yesterday. If that was ugly – and rumours soon started to circulate last night that he is still struggling with his chipping – then that’s why he’s decided now isn’t the time to be returning to the spotlight.

Yet, according to Jesper Parnevik, the former world No 1 was ready for his comeback. “I see Tiger at the Medalist [Golf Club in South Florida],” said the Swede. “We’ve played nine holes together. He’s pounding it a mile and flushing everything … his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago. Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular.”

Sorry, Jesper, but I don’t think we are going to see anything “spectacular” ever again from Woods and, though ill-timed, this decision has spared all his fans from the prospect of having to watch any comeback – for the time being, anyway – hiding behind the sofa. Yes, of course it would be great to have Tiger back playing again and you only had to look at some of the comments on social media before his decision to put that return on hold to see that he can still generate interest and excitement like no one else in the game. But do we really want to see him hacking it round?

“It’s a long time away and, of course, we all expect so much,” observed Nick Dougherty, a three-time European Tour winner and now an accomplished Sky Sports team member at St Andrews last week. “I mean people were even talking about him getting one of the USA’s wild card picks for the Ryder Cup and I thought ‘oh my God, give the guy a chance’. I’m a massive Tiger fan, so I really hope that he’s good, but I don’t want to watch Tiger come back and play like he’s played the last couple of years.”

Will Woods ever be back is the question that could now be asked. Well, possibly not, but let’s hope he is indeed close and this is just a case of cold feet. I doubt it, though. The more he delays his comeback, the tougher it is going to be.