No prizes for guessing the name of the first player to pour cold water on the idea that Tiger Woods’s latest comeback, which begins today at the Farmers Insurance Open in California, will be any more successful than his previous returns.
To be fair to Spain’s Sergio Garcia, what he said made sense. Against the backdrop of the well-documented enmity the pair have for one another, however, this felt like another well-aimed stiletto into the American’s ribs.
‘There’s a big question mark as to how he’s going to be able to do physically,’ said the Masters champion, speaking on the eve of the defence of his Omega Dubai Desert Classic title.
‘He looked pretty good at the Hero Challenge exhibition in December but he’s looked good at the Hero Challenge before and not lasted too long. Hopefully, he’s able to get in a bit of rhythm when it comes down to playing tournaments but nobody knows. I think I can say that even Tiger doesn’t know — so we’ll see.’
Garcia, 38, and Woods, 42, have been needling one another for practically their whole careers.
The animosity bubbled over at the Players Championship in 2013 when Garcia accused Woods of disrespect after an alleged breach of etiquette. ‘You can’t like everybody,’ Garcia said afterwards, when asked about Woods.
‘He’s always complaining about something,’ retorted Woods.
Garcia’s comments on Wednesday struck a discordant note when compared with the observations of those players who have seen this latest version of Woods close-up.
One of those is Garcia’s friend Rory McIlroy, who played a practice round with Woods recently and predicted that he could ‘stun the world once more’.
McIlroy, who is competing here in Dubai, summed up the excitement regarding Woods’s latest comeback — well, apart from Garcia, obviously — when he revealed he spent some time on Tuesday scrolling through swing footage on Instagram of Woods’s practice round in California.
‘I wanted to see how he is swinging, how he is moving. Everyone wants to see how he gets on,’ said the Northern Irishman.
‘Just having him back in the conversation is huge for golf. The buzz he creates makes it better for us all.
‘Let’s hope his body allows him to play a nice, consistent run of events for the next few years and we’ll see where that gets him. I know he’s hungry to get back out there and play.’
It was in Dubai a year ago during his last, ill-fated comeback that Woods was a painful sight to behold. For reasons best known to himself he tried to deny he was struggling, but after he walked 18 holes like a geriatric it was no surprise when he pulled out after the first round.
It looked like that would be it for Woods after three unsuccessful back operations but since fusion surgery last April and by following medical advice to the letter he has restored a feeling of cautious optimism.
‘Since the Hero Challenge I’ve been trying to build up some golf endurance,’ said Woods. ‘I feel like I’ve done that and now it is time to play a tournament.’
As for McIlroy, he is raring to go after shooting 18 under par at his own comeback event in Abu Dhabi last week for tied third place.
Now he is playing an event where he has won twice in the past, against a strong field featuring man of the moment Tommy Fleetwood and the rest of the inform English contingent, including Ross Fisher, Tyrrell Hatton and Matt Fitzpatrick.
‘It’s fair to say that I exceeded my expectations last week and I feel I’ve got a bit of a spring in my step again,’ said McIlroy.
A certain Spaniard might disagree but let’s hope Woods feels the same way on Sunday.