Martin Dempster: Sunshine and blue waters this week - but let's try and avoid storm clouds in golf

I’m not intentionally trying to make anyone jealous and, let’s face it, being so far from home right now might actually not be the smartest of moves due to the Omicron situation, but I am writing this week’s column looking out to the turquoise waters of the Bahamas.

Henrik Stenson of Sweden hits is approach shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany on December 07, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas.
Henrik Stenson of Sweden hits is approach shot on the 18th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany on December 07, 2019 in Nassau, Bahamas.

As happens on a daily basis, giant cruise ships have been slipping into Nassau from just after sunset, with passengers disembarking for the day before moving onto another Caribbean paradise under the cover of darkness.

My mode of travel was in the air, having been invited by Hero MotorCorp to be part of a media party attending this week’s Hero World Challenge, and it was certainly nice to escape Scotland on Sunday morning just as the country was being hit by its first blast of winter.

It’s the first time that I’ve crossed the Atlantic since Covid-19 hit and it feels good to have spread my wings again, even though the timing now doesn’t look too clever due to this heavily-mutated new strain.

It has already wreaked havoc with the start of the 2022 DP World Tour and you really feel for the players and caddies left facing a mad dash to get out of South Africa last week after it was placed back on a red list of travel restrictions.

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What a pity, too, for the organisers of the Joburg Open, South African Open and the Alfred Dunhill Championship as they were either diluted drastically or cancelled. It was a reminder that, despite all the fantastic efforts over the past year and a half, golf is still very much susceptible to this damned pandemic.

Hosted by Tiger Woods, the Hero World Challenge didn’t take place last year as a result of that, but it’s back, with a field of just 20 players heading into battle here at Albany on Thursday.

Rory McIlroy is playing on this occasion, joining the likes of world No 2 and newly-crowned Race to Dubai winner Collin Morikawa, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Bryson DeChambeau, Justin Thomas and Xander Schauffele.

The cynics, of course, will no doubt say ‘who cares?’, but, McIlroy, for one, will be aiming to use this week to continue his recent good form, even if a frustrating finish in Dubai a week past Sunday turned him into the Incredible Hulk briefly as he ripped his shirt and was left exposing a bare torso.

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McIlroy has already confirmed that he’ll be back in the UAE in January for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship at Yas Links, where he is being joined by Morikawa, but both those players are absentees from another entry list that has just been released.

In a move that looks as though it has been aimed at trying to take some of the attention away from the Hero event in the Bahamas, organisers of the Saudi International have announced a sizeable batch of players said to be "confirmed" for its 2022 edition.

DeChambeau is on it along with Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and a posse of European Ryder Cup players, including Lee Westwood, Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter, and it is going to be very interesting indeed to see how that one pans out over the next month or so.

The Saudi International, after all, is no longer on the European Tour schedule. It’s now part of the Asian Tour and both the European Tour and PGA Tour have been no secret of the fact that sanctions are set to be imposed if members play on another circuit without an official release.

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Make no mistake. It’s going to get messy because, by allowing their names to be included on that list, some of the biggest names in the game have indicated that they intend to be in Saudi and secure whatever financial carrots that are being dangled under their noses.

It was interesting that Westwood last week ruled himself out of the 2023 European Ryder Cup captaincy. The Englishman said he’s not yet ready to commit what he feels is a full-time post and he is perfectly entitled to feel that way.

It wouldn’t look good, though, if Keith Pelley was involved in a war with Europe’s Ryder Cup captain at the start of an exciting new era for the DP World Tour, which means that Henrik Stenson could also be about to find himself in a really awkward situation if the Swede is, indeed, the obvious next candidate for the match in Rome as the 2016 Open champion is also on that Saudi list.

Choppy waters would appear to lie ahead, and it has to be hoped that golf doesn’t end up being dragged through the mud because that simply isn’t going to do anyone any good whatsoever.

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Turning back to this week’s event, Woods himself isn’t playing, having only just posted a first video last weekend of him starting to hit shots again following the car crash in February that left him with serious leg injuries.

Given the close proximity of the Bahamas to his home in Florida, there could be a possibility of him showing face at some point between now and Sunday but only time will tell.

There can be no denying, though, that he’s created a hell of a buzz again and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching a fabulous two-part HBO documentary about him on the flight here.

Like many others, I’ve watched lots of similar programmes about the 15-time major winner over the years and also read several excellent books on him and his career.

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But, even though I knew about most of what was said in this particular documentary, it was utterly fascinating from start to finish and, you know something, we really shouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if Tiger is back strutting his stuff in the 150th Open at St Andrews next July.

It’s giving me goosebumps just thinking about that possibility!

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