Woods’s startling win over the rest at Doral points to a rebirth

Tiger Woods issued a significant statement of intent with his 19-under par, two shot victory at the World Golf Championship in Doral last week, and there was enough about this one to suggest it could prove the start of something greater than the false dawns he has encountered since his return to the game in 2010.

Of all the formidable statistics accompanying his most dominant win since his slide from greatness began (100 putts, beating his personal best for fewest putts in a PGA tournament, or the 27 birdies that were one shy of his most ever in one week, to name but a few), the most startling was this: that for the bulk of the 36 holes played over the weekend, Woods led a star-studded field filled with competitors who have supposedly narrowed the gap to him by either three or four shots. Indeed, were it not for a conservative, pragmatic approach that resulted in a bogey on his final hole, he would have ended the tournament three shots ahead of next best-placed Steve Stricker. Add that to the fact that the Blue Monster Course played nice and true over the four days, offering the finest shot-makers in golf every opportunity to attack the pins, go for birdies and locate their best golf, and the size of Woods’s gap to the rest becomes even more frightening.

During last year’s Wimbledon final Roger Federer struggled with the windy conditions that disrupted his rhythm and timing in the early part of the match, but once the roof had been closed due to rain and external factors had been blotted out, the match became a much purer test of shot-making where each competitor’s innate skill with racket and ball made all the difference. It was then, in those equalising conditions that took away the influence of the elements on the ball’s flight and negated much of the effect the surface had on the ball’s speed, that the gap between Federer and Andy Murray (representing the rest of tennis) in creative shot-making became clear. He destroyed Murray over the remainder of that match in as artistic and breath-taking a way as is possible to imagine, and went on to add another Wimbledon title to his collection.

In many ways the Blue Monster Course was golf’s equivalent of the closed Wimbledon Centre Court that day, offering as fair a test of true ability as possible on a layout un-tampered by overweening weather or the recent trend to stifle golfers by leaving hyperbolically deep rough and deepening and widening bunkers to cavernous levels. It instead sought to recognise the greatest talents in the game by offering a layout that balanced difficulty against the need to allow them room to realise their stunning ability to sink monster putts and put the ball to within an inch of the hole from their approach shots. This encouraged the cream to rise to the top and slug it out with each other, and all the names regarded as the purest talents in golf duly appeared on the leaderboard: Sergio Garcia, Phil Mickelson and Adam Scott finished at 14- under par while McIlroy made a recovery once his confidence had stabilised to finish 10- under par.

In light of these conditions, Woods’s statistical domination of the field entails an altogether more awe-inspiring message: that, on a course as likely as any to offer a true and reliable comparison of where the best golfers in the world stand relative to each other in terms of ability and form, he is three shots better than anyone else. In a game that has supposedly risen in quality since his fall from the top, this was a stunning re-affirmation of the limitless extent of his abilities and consummation of mental and technical excellence into perhaps the most fearsome competitor of our times. Whether he can sustain this run of form throughout the season or, more importantly, replicate it in the Major tournaments in which he has fallen short in recent years, must still be regarded as an unknown. However, the overwhelmingly convincing nature of this victory will have done nothing to dampen the rising belief that he is re-discovering his sporting essence once more, and emerging stronger and greater from his Phoenix-like reconstruction with Sean Foley – as well as lending an ominous degree of weight to his words that he “doesn’t want it to be as good as it was before – I want it to be better.”

Ryder Cup brilliance lifts the spirit and will never be forgotten

What the USA and Europe gave us in this year’s Ryder Cup captured everything that sport is meant to be, and then some. There was not a single player from either team whose body language suggested anything other than the deepest commitment to performing for their country and for an ideal that was bigger than themselves, and there were an astonishing number who used this belief to elevate their games to scarcely believable heights. Twice Phil Mickelson went ahead against Justin Rose in the closing stages of their crucial match with a fabulous putt and chip respectively, and twice Rose hit back by holing putts of his own that exploded the weight of probability and ensured their duel will be enshrined in golfing history. Mickelson’s applause of the first of his opponent’s two putts that kept him alive in the match was given with a sort of ecstatic relish that seemed to recognise that the manner in which each was pushing the other to ever greater heights amidst the cauldron of noise touched on the pure essence of their sporting lives in a way that could not be enjoyed in more lopsided contests, or those driven by prize money. There were delicious moments like this to savour all throughout the three days, including the manner in which Bubba Watson stirred up the crowd to fever pitch on the first tee of his fourballs match and then smacked his ball off the tee right in the middle of the roaring. These were golfers who hit previously untapped reserves of ability and mental strength in service to something greater than themselves, and the infectiousness of the occasion even touched Tiger Woods. Although he only garnered half a point, no-one should doubt the way the 14-time major champion was striving with every ounce of strength he had to find form and join the party. That he didn’t is beside the point, as it was his dedicated body language and complete commitment to a cause other than himself for once that so charmed.

Meanwhile the shots of magic raining down from golfers who became titans for seven hours on Sunday just kept on coming. Nicolas Colsaerts put ball after ball next to the pin from his approach shots. Cut to Jason Dufner holing an eagle putt and letting his sanguine façade slip to bust out a ferocious double fist pump. Jim Furyk’s passion was no less affecting for the fact that it came out most in his losing moments. First he too surprised everyone with an uncharacteristic show of euphoria that quickly turned to disbelief as a sweetly struck putt to close out his match against Sergio Garcia lipped out at the last second. His straining every sinew to hole his putts thereafter was palpable through the screen, as was his despair when an equally valiant effort went past on the last to lose a match he had come so close to winning and concede the initiative to Europe. To see him crouch down in dismay was to feel an intense sympathy that confirmed we were in the presence of a great sporting contest – the kind that holds the unique power to elicit every raw emotion known to man at the same time thanks to the lionhearted commitment of its contestants.

It was left to Jose Maria Olazabal to sum up the transcendent halo cast over this entire tournament by the willing efforts of its twenty-four participants most poignantly. Every ounce of effort they gave in embellishing the game recalled the spirit of Seve Ballesteros, and as he reflected on how he had honoured his dear friend’s memory by winning and through the greatness of his men’s play, Olazabal broke down repeatedly. There may not have been any prize money on offer this week, but the pureness of the Ryder Cup captures everything that is vital about the human spirit, and about golf’s recently passed great champion in Ballesteros. Olazabal, an intense and emotional man, confirmed as much when he spoke these words straight from his heart at the closing ceremony: “All men die, but not all men live. And you [the European team] made me feel alive again this week.” Bravo Europe, bravo Team USA and bravo golf for giving us something to inspire countless generations to come.