The unfortunate aspect of any move made by Tiger Woods is the instant bellowing from the back of “Why?”
And it is unfortunate; the consequence of deep-rooted suspicion and closed character by Woods going back two decades that he isn’t regarded as capable of doing anything simply for a wider benefit.
This time, analysis of a Woods move does not so much surround his potentially selfish motives for making it. Rather, his willingness to be named as a Ryder Cup vice-captain with more than 10 months before the meeting with Europe at Hazeltine inevitably boosts the notion that he has no chance of being involved as a player. Cut and dried, many will insist, and with a heavy degree of logic.
Recent whispers have suggested Woods is not physically well, the consequence of a second back surgery in September. But the truth is no one, even those supposedly closest to the 14-times major winner, knows his aspirations and capabilities until Woods himself chooses to make as much known. The spell-binding power Woods holds among all around him is part of his enduring allure, if arguably one of the few aspects he retains in his currently diminished state.
The rest of us can at least say a few things with certainty. Woods would love nothing more than to make an apparently astonishing recovery to the point where he can tee up in the 41st Ryder Cup. It is also true that his indifference towards the competition, an emotion inevitable in part because of an individual obsession, has markedly softened.
Link the two together and the vice-captaincy position afforded to him by Davis Love, even at this premature juncture, will hold obvious appeal. So, too, the prospect of a USA victory at long last, on home soil and boosted by youthful dynamism.
On a straightforward level, Woods should be an ideal Ryder Cup component; players in any USA team will respect him. Woods’s pull was so significant in financial terms that the class of 2016 will genuinely owe him a debt of gratitude for the riches they now pursue. He is more popular among fellow players than is widely acknowledged. Woods’s close friendship with Darren Clarke, Europe’s captain, makes for an endearing dynamic.
The flip side? An indifferent Ryder Cup record, the potential for a circus around him which upstages the captain, and the unavoidable notion that this is a self-serving move by a sporting great who realises his time is up. Barring something miraculous, approaching the greatest sporting comebacks of all time, it surely is.
The wider issue, after all, represents what Woods’s future may hold. If not already, he will soon need fresh impetus and, being blunt, a revised public status. On the course Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth et al have taken golf to a level which surpasses Woods’s capabilities – even if fit – as he sits on the verge of 40. Missing cuts and slumping to varying levels of embarrassment can hold little appeal for an individual who once donned a cloak of invincibility.
If it is to be accepted, and it should be, that he cannot challenge in the upper echelons on a consistent basis any longer, then Woods needs an alternative. This will be a tough change for someone so ferociously competitive. It will not resonate in golf course design deals, however lucrative they may be.
A willingness to connect with the Ryder Cup – commercial benefits and all – and offer the more expansive traits which were evident at times earlier this year could be the next stage of Brand Tiger. The sad thing is, Woods spent too long refusing to share the elements of his personality which are actually endearing or entertaining for this to be perceived as genuine. Woods’s single-mindedness played a part in his brilliance but impacted negatively on his image, particularly with regards to the Ryder Cup. Now, ironically, he finds himself grasping to the same biennial event.
The other strand to this scenario, an unavoidable one, relates to Phil Mickelson. It is generally assumed the relationship between Mickelson and Woods has thawed from the point where they were each other’s nemesis for years. People grow up, people move on.
Yet in the context of Woods’s personal scandals and injury woes, Mickelson has been the clear beneficiary in the eyes of the US public. It is highly doubtful Woods would be wholly appreciative of that.
The scene of Mickelson openly castigating captain Tom Watson as the USA capitulated at the last Ryder Cup made it clear where the balance of power lay in that locker room. The same was just about noticeable at the recent Presidents Cup, where Mickelson was a key figure in a successful USA team. Coincidentally or otherwise, Woods used that same event to make it be known to Love that he would relish a backroom Ryder Cup position. Mickelson, it seems safe to say, will be part of the same equation.
Why, why, why? The question will be 10 months in the asking. The Ryder Cup, already a competition of ever-increasing value, has been afforded an early arm shot. It is all the better as a piece of theatre for Woods’s involvement, whatever the answers.
This article was written by Ewan Murray in Dubai, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 18th November 2015 22.52 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010