Tiger Woods tells in almost spiritual terms the story of the day he and his late father first met Nelson Mandela in his South African home.
‘It was incredible, because my dad and I, we walk into this living room,’ Woods recalled yesterday on the eve of the former president’s 94th birthday.
‘I look at my Dad and I said, “Hey, Pops, do you feel that? It feels different in here”. He said, “Yeah, I feel the same way”. We’re standing there looking at some of the things on the wall. And over in the corner was President Mandela.
‘He was over there just meditating in the corner and there was a different feeling in the room. He has such a presence and aura about him, unlike anyone I’ve ever met.’
That was back in 1998, an occasion which prompted Earl Woods, somewhat grotesquely, to suggest ‘it was the first time that Tiger met a human being equal to him’.
That is the kind of notion that makes Oasis’s claim that they were ‘bigger’ than the Beatles look almost plausible.
Only a blinkered fool would have even contemplated comparing Woods with Mandela (below) in the three years since the golfer’s world — and game — fell apart amid lurid tales of extra-extra-curricular activity.
Back in ’98, however, in the wake of his 12-stroke victory in the 1997 Masters at Augusta, Woods was developing an aura of invincibility which would intimidate a generation of golfers.
There was, too, a presence which stemmed from the combination of his uniqueness as a role model, his unmatched earning power as a sportsman and the influence he wielded over golf.
Woods, now 36, will have to win not just one major but more, and soon, if he is to recreate the aura so feared by players and held in awe by the many fans who have remained loyal.
While he has yet to transfer his rediscovered form in regular PGA-tournament play into the more testing examination of a championship like The Open, there were in his imperious performance at yesterday’s press conference distinct signs of the Woods of old.
The confidence born of increasing familiarity with his restructured swing and his current freedom from injury shone as headlights alongside an almost innate arrogance.
Asked if he would be surprised to regain the No 1 spot in the world rankings this weekend so soon after the depths of last year, he replied: ‘No. Does that help you out?’
Woods will return to the position he has held for 623 weeks of his career with victory on Sunday provided Luke Donald does not finish either second or third. There was similar conviction in Woods’ response to a question about the four-year gap since his last major success. Did he ever feel a sense of anxiety over when or if the next one was going to come? Impatience, perhaps? ‘No, no,’ he replied. ‘I just try and put myself there. I think that if I continue putting myself there enough times then I’ll win major championships.
‘First of all, I had to go through that process of just getting healthy again. Missing major championships wasn’t a whole lot of fun. I think I missed four majors because I was injured.
‘I figure if I’m healthy, I can prepare properly for major championships and I can get myself there.’
The last three days of practice, in fair weather and foul, have gone well. He sounds as if he’s there.
Noises can be deceptive. The fact remains that in a year which has produced three victories, his worst finishes — other than a couple of missed cuts — have come at the Masters and the US Open.
Highs have been accompanied by lows which never used to be the case. Only in trying to explain the disparity in performance did Woods exhibit any uncertainty.
‘If I knew the answer I’d tell you, but I don’t. I just keep trying to work, to get better, get more consistent. And that’s something I’m looking forward to.’
The last 15 majors have been won by 15 different players, dating back to Padraig Harrington’s victory in the 2008 US PGA Championship. A Woods triumph this weekend would extend the sequence to 16.
He won the Silver Medal as the leading amateur at Royal Lytham in 1996, a performance of some significance according to Woods.
‘The Open Championship that year pushed me towards turning pro versus going back to college,’ he explained. ‘I was still kind of iffy about whether I should turn pro or not. But that gave me so much confidence that I could play against the top players in the world on a very difficult track.’
There would be a certain symmetry in victory here firing up the next stage of his career. – Daily Mail