I t may have sounded hollow for so long when Tiger Woods talked about winning again but not any more. Against all the odds, the 42-year-old looks as though he can indeed add to his incredible title haul and, yes, there is a chance of that being a major.
Yes, that would require one of the best performances of his astonishing career. And, yes, there are a lot of very good players around in the game at the moment, so winning again is way more difficult for Woods than it once was.
Only those with heads buried in sand, though, could deny that what we have seen from the 14-time major winner over the past few months has made that a distinct possibility, which is absolutely brilliant for the game.
That Woods eventually finished joint 11th behind Webb Simpson in the Players Championship on Sunday was slightly disappointing, but not if you factor in making the cut at Sawgrass with nothing to spare after opening rounds of 72 and 71.
He started the weekend 14 shots behind Simpson yet, after a brilliant 65 on Saturday and covering the first 13 holes in the final round in six under, had hauled himself into second spot and only four off the lead.
Okay, the old Woods wouldn’t have taken an untimely bogey at the 14th nor dumped his tee shot into the water at the 17th, by which time his hopes of reeling in Simpson had gone, but there’s definitely a spark there again and the man himself knows it.
“It really is,” he replied to being asked if this performance had been a big positive for him, bearing in mind, of course, that we are talking about a man who has undergone four back operations in three years and only returned to competitive action late last year. “I didn’t play particularly well in the first couple days, but I turned it around this weekend and I got it rolling.”
The effort lifted Woods up 12 spots to 80th in the world rankings. Pretty impressive, given that he ended last year languishing in 656th position and had slipped as low as 1,199th at one point during his absence last year. His next appearance is likely to be in The Memorial at the end of the month, with the US Open at Shinnecock Hills soon after that. His last major victory, of course, was in that event a decade ago and it does seem a tall order for him to deliver again at that level.
It was interesting, though, to hear what Padraig Harrington had to say about that during his visit to Carnoustie last week and I tend to agree with the Irishman. “He is going to win tournaments, 100 per cent yes, and I think majors would be easier for him to win because they are harder for others to win,” he opined. “There wouldn’t be too many people wanting to come down the stretch against Tiger Woods. There would be a lot of people you’d rather be against over the last couple of holes.”
While Woods didn’t really get close enough to have an intimidatory effect on this occasion, fair play to Simpson, a former US Open winner, for landing his first victory since 2013 in real style. Many in Scotland, of course, will still remember his less than convincing opening tee shot in the 2014 Ryder Cup at Gleneagles, but there was nothing meek about this display.
“I feel like it’s my first win,” he admitted of a success that threw up an interesting fact in that Simpson ranked first in driving accuracy and last in driving distance in the event.
“To win a major championship and a few other Tour events and then go over four years without a win, I never doubted myself but, at the same time, that’s a long time.”
Add in Justin Thomas doing enough by finishing alongside Woods to end Dustin Johnson’s run of 64 consecutive weeks at world No 1; Tommy Fleetwood breaking into the world’s top ten for the first time on the back of claiming a share of seventh and Ian Poulter producing another strong performance in this event to bolster his Ryder Cup hopes, and the so-called fifth major certainly threw up plenty of good storylines on this occasion.
For Jordan Spieth, it ended with a kick in the teeth as he signed off with a quadruple-bogey 8. Yet that didn’t stop him from signing autographs for a big group of kids afterwards and, along with many others at the moment, including a Woods who actually looks as though he’s enjoying himself, golf really can be thankful to have such a terrific ambassador as the young Texan.