Gobsmacked. Despite the miraculous things he’s done in his career—playing and winning a US Open on a bum knee, coming back to win the 2019 Masters, to name a couple—Tiger Woods teeing it up at the 2022 Masters Tournament went beyond the realm of possibility— even by his own benchmark of unbelievable. And when Tiger proceeded to hobble around Augusta National for what was his 51st under-par round at this golf course that placed him in the Top-10 after the opening days’ play, then that was just too remarkable an event to articulate. How does a man who nearly lost his leg in a horrific accident, and who hasn’t played a competitive round in 17 months, come back to shoot an under-par round, at one of the toughest golf courses in the world, set up to beguile the best players in the game. To paraphrase an advertising refrain, for Tiger Woods, impossible is nothing.
Tiger’s opening round was remarkable in other ways as well. The wishy-washy fade he glanced off the first tee went only 260 yards and made it clear that the driver was going to be a problem. He proceeded to scramble for par—setting the tone for a round punctuated by recoveries. A fist-pump after drilling in a 30-footer for birdie at the Par-3 16th hole announced Tiger’s intentions—this man believed he could win. “I don’t show up to an event unless I think I can win it,” he said after shooting an opening one-under par that put him four strokes back of the lead.
Tiger’s chances were finally doused when he four-putted the fifth hole to make double bogey in the third round. But he soldiered on: “…Never give up. Always chase after your dreams. And I fight each and every day. Each and every day is a challenge. Each and every day presents its own different challenges for all of us. I wake up and start the fight all over again,” he said after that round, addressing his fans. If golf is a game played in the space between a man’s temples, then Tiger Woods’ performance at the 2022 Masters Tournament will be remembered for just what mind over matter is capable of.
That self-belief is certainly true of world number one Scottie Scheffler. What can you say of a performance in which the winner choked under the pressure of winning his first Major Championship and four-putted (including a three-putt from within four feet) on the final hole and still won by three strokes? That’s golf’s equivalent of lapping the field—something Scheffler has been doing comprehensively ever since he won his very first event on the PGA Tour three months ago.
Scheffler held a three-shot overnight lead going into Sunday’s final round at The Masters. In an interview to the BBC he had no hesitation in admitting later that he had, “…cried like a baby” on the morning of the final round because “…he doubted if he was ready to win one of the sport’s most iconic tournaments”.
That nervousness was certainly not palpable on the golf course: Scheffler looked otherworldly relaxed, during the entire length of the tournament. No small feat given that he had to deal with the pressure of leading the event, as a newly crowned world number one, for the duration of the final two rounds of the Major. Pretty amazing for a player who up until February was known as the best player in the world not to have won an event.
And that fact led to a fair bit of backtalk: the fact that he was winless was often cited as cause for casting aspersions on his Top-20 world ranking. That began to change after Scheffler took down Jon Rahm in his singles match at the 2021 Ryder Cup. And then in February, the Texan finally got the monkey off his back by winning the WM Phoenix Open. Since then, Scheffler has won three of the five events he’s teed it up at punctuated by a triumph at the most hallowed Major Tournament on US soil. With this victory, Scheffler becomes the first player to win four times in a six-start stretch on the PGA Tour since Jason Day in 2015. He becomes the sixth player to win in his first PGA Tour start as world number one and sixth world number one to win the Masters.Now with the Green Jacket on his shoulders the pre-eminent player of 2022 has firmly answered his detractors.His performance in 2022 has been nothing short of, well Tiger-esque. And that’s pretty much the highest compliment you can pay anyone in the game.
On another note, Tiger’s exploits over the years have inspired many an itinerant golfer to revisit the scenes of the man’s biggest triumphs. There are only a handful of golf courses in Asia that fit that description, and none more so than the Blue Canyon GC in Phuket, Thailand. The iconic club was the scene of much drama during the 1998 Johnnie Walker Classic in which a young Tiger rallied from eight shots back on the final day to get past a hapless Ernie Els and win by one. Yours truly has recently returned from his own adventures at Phuket in what was the first overseas grip in over two years. More on that next time.