Tag Archives: Tiger Woods

2018 Masters Preview: Who will shine at Augusta?

It’s now just a matter of weeks until the start of the 2018 Masters and the thrills of Augusta National Golf Club start all over again.

Imagine where you’ll be sitting, how you’ll be watching, what you’ll be doing. This year’s tournament is already shaping up to be one of the best in recent years, and here’s why.

Of course, everyone will have their ideal leaderboard. Maybe it’s Rory McIlroy sitting on top come the evening of 8th April, to complete a career grand slam. Or perhaps Dustin Johnson, who of course, missed out on the tournament last year due to a back injury, which paved the way for Sergio Garcia’s long-awaited first major title.

The beauty of the Masters is that coming down the back-nine on the final round, no matter what the leaderboard looks like, you can never predict who the winner will be. It’s the beauty and challenge of Augusta that every golf fan loves.

Our excitement for the first major of the year is definitely justified by what we’ve seen so far this year.

Jon Rahm’s sixth gear, Justin Thomas’ ridiculous theatrics, Bubba Watson hitting dizzying shots all over southern California, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson hitting the accelerator, Tommy Fleetwood, ‘Mr Consistent’ this year.

With all the players firing as they are, we could be in for complete and total euphoria in a couple of week’s time.

And we haven’t even mentioned Tiger Woods or Jordan Spieth yet!

Think of last year’s incredible finale when we had two European stars battle it out in one of the most thrilling final rounds the tournament has ever seen.

Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia created a complete thrill of a back-nine for the patrons with shots flying in thick and fast. None quite so spectacular as Sergio’s incredible approach to the flag at the Par 5 15th.

Both players will definitely be in contention this year, maybe not as favourites, as it’s so hard to win the Masters in consecutive years, or even finish in the top 10 consecutively.

Could this be the best Masters yet?

We have longed for the heads of generations – notably Woods and McIlroy – to clash for such a long time, this might finally be the year we see it.

Woods has defied everyone through countless injury setbacks, to now find himself in his best form for the last five years.

A second-place finish at the Valspar Championship a few weeks ago, followed by a strong finish at Bay Hill (won by McIlroy) means both players are hitting form at just the right time.

Could this be the year Tiger equals the great Jack Nicklaus’ record five green jackets? Or will Rory win his first?

One of the dirty secrets of the Masters in recent years is that we have rarely seen true heavyweight bouts for the jacket.

There has been no Mickelson-Henrik Stenson duel at Royal Troon. There has been no Johnson-Spieth set to at Chambers Bay. There has been no Mickelson-McIlroy-Rickie Fowler battle at Valhalla.

The rivalries we want at Augusta

Yes, last year was incredible (and will be historically underrated), but before that you have to do a little scavenging to find another great sword fight at Augusta National.

Spieth vs. Bubba Watson in 2014 was terrific, and Adam Scott and Angel Cabrera in 2013 was strong, but you probably have to go all the way back to 2004 to find a true icon-on-icon battle.

Mickelson shot 31 on the back nine that year to clip Ernie Els by one. The climax of that tournament is now a logo on Mickelson’s belt buckle.

This year, though, well this years has the makings of something tremendous. We get all the trappings of a normal major with two key ingredients that many Masters (especially recently) have lacked.

Elder statesmen Mickelson and Woods trying to rekindle something special. Two all-timers trying to remember what it feels like to have all the Masters you could possibly want in front of you and the possibility that you could win them all still in play.

There is nothing in all of sports as dramatic or compelling as that narrative.

Their presence at Augusta, when in good form, exponentially raises the bar on what we could see. The possibilities are endless.

What if we get a Mickelson-McIlroy redux? A repeat of the 2014 PGA Championship.

What if Dustin Johnson starts clicking on Sunday afternoon with those meteoric drives, with Thomas and Rahm keeping pace?

What if – pausing to pray to the golfing gods – Woods and Spieth go to a playoff?

What if Fowler and McIlroy are in the pairing in front of them? What if Sergio Garcia is in a position to repeat?

Tremendous storylines

The possibilities are endless and I’m not sure there’s ever been more real momentum heading into a Masters in recent memory.

It’s no secret that the form of the world’s top 20, right now, leads us to the believe that more tremendous storylines will be written this April.

But even if we get the flip side of that is that, if we don’t get something truly special and an outsider wins, like the ever-present Charley Hoffman or Marc Leishman, it’s all part of the joys of Augusta that we’ve grown to love over the years.

Maybe it will never play out like we want, either. Maybe Francesco Molinari will win the Masters, and we will all move on with our lives. But maybe, for one week Tiger and Phil and Spieth and Rory and Rahm and Fowler and Johnson and Garcia will all be feeling it.

Maybe we’ll get the greatest Masters of all-time…

Feature image of Augusta National courtesy of Dan Perry via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Tiger Woods comeback great for golf, says TPC director Rice

As Tiger Woods finished in the top five of the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational over the last two weeks, the glint was back in the eye of the 14-time major winner.

Normally, anything less than a victory, would rarely represent a good result in the mind of the 42-year-old. Yet, on both occasions, a second and fifth-placed finish, was seen as huge progress for Woods in his quest to return to former glories after a series of back problems over the last four years.

Swinging freely and putting lethally, Woods seems to be close to his best again.

Yes, appearances at the Farmers Insurance and Honda Classic offered encouragement earlier on in the year. However, it’s his performances at the Valspar and Arnold Palmer Invitational, which have triggered belief that the back fusion, undertaken after a failed comeback attempt in 2017, may have finally worked.

Looking on with keenness, golf’s governing bodies, tour executives and tournament officials will have been rubbing their hands together, thinking of the benefits a fit Woods can bring to the sport and their events.

For instance, you only have to look at the huge crowds following the Californian over the last couple of weeks on the PGA Tour to realise the impact he still holds in golf and the sporting world.

‘Unique appeal’

The Players Championship in May, widely regarded as the sport’s unofficial ‘fifth major’, will be on the horizon after the Masters and, with Woods looking fit and driving the ball well, the tournament’s director, Jared Rice, is eagerly anticipating the legend’s return to TPC Sawgrass.

“First of all, I want to say that Tiger Woods is an unbelievable athlete, and if anybody could come here and win after such a long time out, it would be him,” Rice told Elephant Sport.

“For sure, anytime that a player of his stature is in the field and participating in your sport, the sport is better off for it. He has a unique appeal.”

Indeed, at the Valspar, golf broadcaster NBC reported an increase of 181% in their third round viewing figures – their highest-rated Saturday golf broadcast for a dozen years.

It’s clear, similar to Roger Federer in tennis and Usain Bolt in athletics, Woods sparks interest on an unprecedented level when he is part of the field, which is why tournament directors and golf’s hierarchy are hoping that this is a bona fide comeback.

Once in a generation

“We have, in recent years, seen record growth in attendance both from home in America and internationally,” said Rice. “With our prestigious and well-heralded fan experience, luckily we are not reliant on one player.

“But saying that, although we have always had strong fields, Woods is a once-in-a-generation player, and having him added again to what we have already going on here would, undoubtedly, aid the tournament greatly.”

With golf suffering somewhat of a decline in interest, the return of Woods, the sport’s most iconic and influential player, couldn’t have come at a better time as millennials look for inspiration to play and watch the game.

And, although a flurry of talented and exciting youngsters such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm have emerged in recent times, none of them yet possess the aura and magnet effect of their elder competitor.

Rightly, a lot has been made of the hysteria around Woods since his return, with current and former golfers berating the lack of focus around other great players in the field.

But, frankly, the truth is that golf and its success, still relies heavily on a healthy Woods. Hence, all those involved with the game will be desperately hoping his latest return is not short-lived.

Feature image courtesy of Keith Allison via Flickr Creative Commons under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Europe primed to reclaim Ryder Cup in ‘iconic’ Paris, says Pelley

Golf’s European Tour boss Keith Pelley believes Paris will be a fantastic host for the 2018 Ryder Cup and says he fancies Europe to regain the trophy on home soil.

2018 captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn in Paris
2018 captains Jim Furyk and Thomas Bjorn in Paris

Speaking exclusively to Elephant Sport, Pelley said he was impressed upon his visit to the French capital last month for an official ‘year to go’ Ryder Cup dinner, and is eagerly anticipating next year’s event.

The 42nd edition of the Ryder Cup, between the USA and Europe, will be played at Le Golf National in southern Paris from September 28-30. It will be the first time France has hosted the biennial tournament.

Paris

“If the ‘year to go’ dinner was anything to go by, where the captains were hitting golf balls off the Eiffel Tower, then I believe it’s going to be an absolutely brilliant Ryder Cup,” said Pelley, chief executive of the European Tour since 2015.

“I think we’re in for a right treat. Paris is an iconic city. France as a country is really behind it and tickets sold out in less than two hours.

“I think it will be an incredible competition. It will be unique, for sure, and be very interesting to follow. I couldn’t be more excited for it.”

European talent

Pelley is backing McIlroy to rediscover his best form

Remarkably, the USA haven’t lifted a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1993, when they won 15-13 at The Belfry in Warwickshire.

But with Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson all claiming major victories in recent times, many in the game are tipping the US as strong favourites to break their long drought on European soil.

Pelley, however, feels that Europe have their own fair share of top players and believes the continent shouldn’t be too wary of their American counterparts.

“I think the likes of Jordan (Spieth) and Justin (Thomas) are great players and of great quality,” said Pelley. “They’ve shown that this year. But we have top young players ourselves.

“When you think about Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrell Hatton, Thomas Pieters, Jon Rahm, you know, the list goes on and on.

“Also, Rory (McIlroy) is a world-class athlete. He’s proven over and over again that he is a champion at every level.

“I have every belief that McIlroy will come back and rise again in time for the Ryder Cup, and that could prove pivotal.”

Woods

Woods – can he get his career back on track and play in Paris?

With Tiger Woods scheduled to make another comeback from crippling back injuries at the Hero World Challenge in December, the 14-time major winner’s huge fan base will be hoping he can finally stay fit and make a lasting bid to regain his supremacy.

Pelley, likewise, would also love to see Woods, 41, return to his best and try to qualify for the Ryder Cup as a player again.

But, at the same time, he doesn’t think his absence would be disastrous to the event or golf going forward, and reiterated his confidence in Europe’s rising stars to set the game alight.

“I think Tiger has been a terrific ambassador for the game,” added the 53-year-old. “The players just love to have him around. It would be great if he could return to his lofty heights. Everybody wants that.

“However, in Hazeltine at the Ryder Cup in 2016, his presence, as a vice-captain, was felt greatly. Regardless of whether he’s playing or not, I hope that he is involved in the Ryder Cup next year with the US team.

“But, still, I believe the game is in great shape with so many young players. I’m so optimistic with the talent we are producing in Europe.

“Only the other day I wrote down a list of 15 young players who could make the European team and that’s pretty exciting.”

Images courtesy of zimbio.com