David Howell: Tiger, thanks for the memories – and for what is yet to come

The Tiger Woods Story so far is utterly unbelievable and could not have been written by the finest Hollywood scribe there is. David Howell reflects on the Tiger from past and present in this month’s column.

It was in 1995, in a hotel dining room in Wales when I first became aware of a player by the name Tiger Woods. I was on a Walker Cup training camp – a new idea at that time – preparing to take on the mighty USA a few months later at Royal Porthcawl. 

Great Britain and Ireland had rarely been victorious in this biennial event and the group discussion was all about the players we would be facing, and, inevitably, to Tiger. This was in the days before the internet and the world was still a much larger place, or so it seemed.

Back then, we knew very little of Tiger, except for the fact that he appeared to be winning every event in the US Collegiate system and, apparently, he was hitting the ball further than any man had ever hit a ball before.

We decided there and then not to put too much weight on Tiger’s looming presence in South Wales. Team golf limits one person’s effectiveness, after all, and a few months later we did indeed manage to beat that American side. However, one glimpse of Tiger Woods, absorbing the phenomenon in action, left everyone in no doubt whatsoever that here was a guy who was capable of impacting the game in a big way.

My career and Tiger’s were played out almost simultaneously. We both turned professional in 1996: Tiger following his debut in The Masters as US Amateur Champion; mine after a successful visit to the European Tour Qualifying School. Our paths have crossed a few times since then, although I have looked on from afar, more as a golf fan, and, like so many across the globe, an interested observer of a sportsman who seemed to be on a different planet than the rest of us.

His life, which has largely been played out in front of the cameras, has become the greatest sporting script a Hollywood scribe could ever have written. In fact, any editor worth his salt would have suggested toning down the highs and lows in this page-turning roller coaster of a story. 

Maybe, the storyteller wouldn’t begin with a 12-shot margin of victory for his first Major at The Masters. After all, nobody can buy into a film that is too far-fetched, and, certainly wouldn’t stretch the realms of possibility with a 15-shot winning margin on the most scenic US Open venue, Pebble Beach. Who wants to see someone win by so many shots, anyway? Then there’s this unbelievably daft chapter about him winning with a fractured leg? In an 18-hole play-off, too! You’d need to have a vivid imagination… and your audience has to believe it all actually happened. 

I can understand including the marital breakdown years to reveal a character so far removed, who leads a life filled with adrenaline-fueled highs it would take a saint to fall back to the humdrum existance of normal life without a few glitches along the way. The infidelity, the arrest for being DUI, and four different back surgeries –is this where his Major story ends? Oh no. 

The next chapter sees his re-emergence, at his favourite venue, Augusta National, in the spring sunshine, with the world’s best players vying for glory. It’s here that Tiger holds strong. While his competitors start to quiver, he zones in like the young champion he once was. He flings his arms aloft with unbridled joy, a decade of anguish falls away in an instant, and for the first time in the history of the game, the patrons join together to chant his name in unison. A cochophony of admiration spills forth for the fulfilment of a comeback so improbable that everyone realises they will forever be able to say, ‘I was there when Tiger won his 15th Major.”

Well, of course, we all know it’s not a fictional novel, or a fantasy tale, it’s the story of a man who put everything into one aspect of his life, being the best golfer he could be, for 40 years in a row, with goals so lofty they would take a lifetime to achieve. What man wouldn’t be knocked off course occasionally in pursuit of greatness? Just as a sailing trip around the globe will not always be on calm seas, trying to win 19 Majors would always involve some choppy waters. 

But having set his sails once again at Augusta, Tiger Woods’ mission to solo navigate the golfing globe and pip Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 Majors, is back on track once again, and who would bet against him now? I know how I would write the final chapter, and it would end at St Andrews on the most famous links of all, being handed the Claret Jug. Now that would be a sports movie for the ages. 

The best bit, the footage by and large, has already been shot. It’s just the final scenes that need to be completed. The final edit will reveal all, but for now, may I just say: “Tiger, thank you, because it’s been incredible viewing so far.”

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