Woods finds he’s still king of the hill, top of the heap
They may not be mad about golf in New York but they sure like Tiger
It is the one thing you can’t do in Manhattan. For centuries now, outsiders have travelled thousands of miles to the long skinny island intent on reinvention or glory or mere survival and, as the buildings stretched skywards and the boulevards gathered countless stories of failed genius and staggering success, to simply escape into the freedom that comes with living among millions of other people.
And so you can still happily masquerade as a hippy or a punk or a high fashionista or a a drag merchant or a Wall Street killer or a no-logo skateboard king or a diva or stroll around as a tourist or haunt the subway carriages as a soul-singer or a break dancer or be a Hollywood movie star or a ballplayer or an evangelist or a solid NYPD officer.
But if you walked around carrying a set of golf clubs, people would probably assume you were weird.
People treat Central Park as if it is their private back garden and indulge in every kind of physical activity possible but the one thing you do not see is the solitary golfer with, say, a nine iron and a bag of cheap balls working on his chip shot over and over.
Golf remains the suburban pleasure and for some reason that makes it even more exotic in the concrete jungle.
But for all that, the US Masters holds the same magical sway in Manhattan as it does elsewhere in the world. From lunchtime on Thursday, all you had to do was glance into any of the thousands of bars and restaurants to see the unmistakably lush and floral backdrop of the Georgia landmark.
Sport features in too many American bars and for too long so the games often just blend into the background. But people watch the Masters with intent. Office workers who might normally lunch at their desk descend to ground level and find somewhere local to watch golf for an hour. In the evening, they stop and catch the closing holes before diving into the warren of the subway system for their commute home.
Talk to anyone involved in office work and they will talk about the constant cat-and-mouse they play at their desk, keeping tabs on Mickelson, Garcia or Wood through live streaming and online updates. Some offices have placed outright bans on following the Masters: it becomes too great a distraction. And golf remains the universal language in that there is one question that everyone asked all through Thursday and Friday: how is Tiger doing?
It is 15 years and counting now since Earl Woods first proclaimed that his son Eldrick was the Second Coming incarnate and in a strange way now, his prophecy looks more accurate now than it ever did.
The old man would have spun revolutions had he been around to witness the way in which his son became a day star falling through the sky, stripped of all armour and dignity and, above all, of his ability to make other opponents freeze and yield to his unyielding will and brilliance.
Lost his Mojo
For months and months Woods cut a desolate figure and it was easy to conclude that given everything that had happened and given how much golf had dominated his life that he had just lost his Mojo.
The sunny, mop-headed explosion of youth and charm which Rory McIlroy brought to the elite golf circuit had the effect of casting Woods in an even more troubling light: the Northern Irish youngster had all of Woods’ irrepressible talent but also knew how to win and lose with grace.
He could do no wrong. It seemed as if golf has missed out on a great rivalry: that Woods was on an irretrievable drift towards ordinariness while McIlroy was set to inherit the golfing world.
And in some ways the Irish man has done, joining the truly global names, from Jordan to Federer to Woods, as a Nike front man. The cash fall has been spectacular and unstoppable. At his best, he could make golf look silly-easy.
But golf is a long game. There has been a predatory stealth about the way in which Tiger Woods has recaptured his place as the number one ranked golfer in the world.
He remains as remote as ever, perhaps having learned that his decision to “share” did his troubles with the world did him no favours. Best to remain polite and aloof and as guarded as ever and to let the outside world wonder.
And all of a sudden the conversation has switched from whether he will win another Major to if he will complete the task he was anointed to do and eclipse Jack Nicklaus’s haul of Majors.
In the opening round on Thursday, McIlroy wore his emotions on his sleeve as he always did, occasionally wonderful but mostly struggling to tap into that effortless jazzy rhythm through which he makes the game look like child’s play.
It is hard not to believe that in addition to the Is-It-The-Clubs? debate and to the paparazzi attention generated by his high profile romance that McIlroy is also just a tiny bit fazed by the burning sense of purpose emanating from Woods these days.
To golf fans from from around the world watching in Manhattan, Rory McIlroy is an international star and the television directors love him: even when he is having a mediocre par round, he is a compelling performer. But Woods remains the name on most people’s lips.
The strange thing about the Masters is that in Ireland and in Europe, we get it at its best. It has always been the great weekend treat of April; a glorious golf competition to watch in the twilight and which, more often than not, guaranteed terrific drama close to midnight on Sunday night.
Somehow it loses a little of its allure when you see the drama playing itself out in the bright afternoon.
Whether this year’s Masters transforms itself into the dual that golf has been waiting for remains to be seen. But regardless of who wears the green jacket on Sunday evening, one thing was clear over the past few days.
Tiger Woods wouldn’t need to carry clubs to be recognised as a golfer in Manhattan.