Colin Montgomerie believes the public won’t listen to Tiger Woods “cry wolf” if his latest comeback proves short-lived and hopes the 14-time major winner can prove this isn’t another false dawn.
Woods is making his first competitive outing in 10 months when he tees off in today’s opening round of the Hero World Challenge, an 18-man event taking place at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas, after undergoing his fourth back operation earlier in the year.
The 41-year-old led the field in birdies when he made a return in the same event 12 months ago but was then forced to withdraw following the first round of the Omega Dubai Desert Classic two months later due to “back spasms”.
In his pre-event press conference for this week’s event, Woods said he felt more confident about this latest comeback due to his spine having been “fused” but, at the same time, the former world No 1 admitted only time will tell if he can become a competitive force once again.
“I think he has got to be realistic,” said Montgomerie, who describes Tiger as a “marketing dream for golf”.
“Let’s hope he doesn’t cry wolf once more because, if he does, I think this will be his last chance, really. I don’t think he will have another one. So, if this doesn’t work, then I think that’s it and I think the general public will feel the same.
“I think if we see him play at the Masters in April, which would probably mean he’s played half a dozen events beforehand, and contends a couple of times out of that six, then we can say, ‘right, he’s a bona fide starter to contend at Augusta National’.”
The Scot will join millions of golf fans around the world to watch one of the most keenly-anticipated round of 2017 as Woods tees off at 5.05pm UK time in the company of the USPGA champion, Justin Thomas.
Woods, who is currently ranked 1,199th in the world and is a 40-1 outsider for this week’s event, spent a night in the cells in May after being pulled over for reckless driving. He subsequently entered into a programme of rehab after confessing he became over-reliant on medication and prescription drugs to deal with his injuries.
“When you saw the pictures of him with the Florida Police, that wasn’t great and I don’t think he actually knows what is around the corner for him now,” added Montgomerie, who was speaking as he attended a golf clinic for one of his sponsors, Aberdeen Standard Investments, in London. “I think he is trying to be realistic because of that. In some ways, that is encouraging.
“Put it this way, it wasn’t great seeing him in that state out in Dubai earlier this year, so let’s hope this is something more permanent.
“Let’s hope that he comes back and performs because golf has missed him, as I have said many times. He’s a marketing dream for golf and that’s why, over the last 25 years, golf has boomed in the way it has. It has been down to him.
“While people talk about the likes of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, Tiger is ahead of them all in a marketing sense. If DJ, for example, took a year off and came back, there wouldn’t be the same media scrum as there has been this week.”
While it’s too early to know what lies ahead for Woods, next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie is certainly in the sights of the three-time winner of the Claret Jug.
“I’d love to play there again,” he told reporters covering the Hero Challenge in the Bahamas. “I played there in the Scottish Open in 1995 and in 1999 in the Open when Paul Lawrie won. I made one birdie on the weekend and finished three or four out of the play-off. That golf course can be brutal and it was brutal that year.
“I didn’t play when Paddy [Harrington] won in ‘07, but I just love that golf course. It’s so tough, but it’s all there in front of you.
“There are no tricks, there’s nothing hidden. It’s just ‘come get me.’ This one is the by far the hardest of all the courses on the Open rota. I’ve got two Opens in Scotland and one in England, so lets try and add another one in there.”
Thomas, meanwhile, has revealed he would like to play in the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at some stage, a tournament hosted by Rory McIlroy, but admits it will be tough to squeeze into his schedule.
“I definitely at some point would love to take on, I shouldn’t say a lot, but some European Tour events or just across the world,” said the world No 3. “But I still feel I have a lot to prove here first.”
Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama defends the title in the Bahamas, where the field also includes Johnson, Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Tommy Fleetwood and Alex Noren.