With the organisers of the JP McManus Pro-Am announcing Tiger Woods’s plan to play at Adare Manor in July, all attention will be on the 15-time Major champion in what could be one of no more than a handful of playing appearances worldwide all year.
Woods's public appearances in Ireland have been limited, but any appearance has always brought great fanfare. He first arrived in Ireland in July 1998, with Mark O'Meara and businessmen Dermot Desmond and JP McManus, thus starting McManus's long-time friendship with Tiger and his continued pull to get him to appear at each edition of his event in Limerick. Playing Waterville and Ballybunion, the trip was worth $150,000 for Woods, according to a report from Golfweek at the time, although Desmond denied the financial motivation for that trip.
Woods particularly enjoyed coming to Ireland “not just from a golf standpoint, but also from a spiritual standpoint”, enjoying a preparation for the British Open in solitude and peace. Getting a taste for the pleasures of Co Kerry, he spent his first day fishing at the famous salmon pool at Waterville, a hobby he enjoyed with his friend O’Meara, and which brought him to various places across the length of the country.
On one memorable trip in 1999, a crowd of no more than 100 watched a star-studded six-ball (Tiger Woods, Mark O'Meara, David Duval, Lee Janzen, Stuart Appleby and Payne Stewart) at the Old Head of Kinsale. Tiger's abiding memory of the round was the fog, where he "couldn't see more than 100 yards". Portmarnock and Royal County Down were other favourites, while in 2002, he broke the course record at the European Club in Co Wicklow, a 67 on one of the toughest set-ups in the country.
In 2000, Woods arrived for his first JP McManus Pro-Am at Limerick Golf Club. More than 7,000 people turned up to get to see Woods shoot an eight-under-par round to break the course record by three shots. It was one of three appearances in the event, which moved to Adare Manor in 2005, while he honoured his commitment to McManus to play in the Pro-Am in 2010, despite turmoil in his personal life following his sex scandal.
There he would look a shell of his former self, shooting 79 on the first day of the Pro-Am, following it up with a more respectable 69 in the second round. It was a tough time in Tiger’s life for obvious reasons, and that was reflected by the terse press conference after the event with many blunt one-word answers. Yet still 40,000 followed every shot and fought to sneak a look at the world’s most famous golfer.
In 2002, a chance to play in Ireland competitively finally came with the WGC-American Express Championship at Mount Juliet in Co Kilkenny, with 49 of the top 50 players in the world present. Playing alongside Pádraig Harrington in the opening rounds, he posted a superb 25-under-par total to win the event by one shot from South Africa’s Retief Goosen. He would return to Mount Juliet in 2004 for the same event, where he would finish ninth.
Not every trip Tiger would make to Ireland would bring success, however. In 2006, The K Club hosted the first Ryder Cup on Irish soil. Europe gave US a thrashing in Co Kildare, winning by 18½ points to 9½, and it felt Tiger's week in Ireland was summed up by a moment with his caddie Steve Williams, who tried to clean Woods's 9-iron but dropped the club and towel into the lake beside the seventh green. It took a diver to get it back.
When the British Open came to Royal Portrush in 2019, surprisingly it was Tiger's first time playing the course. Arriving after his miraculous win in the Masters earlier that year, Woods struggled to make a lasting impression, missing the cut after rounds of 78 and 70. His back looked uncomfortable in the chilly conditions of the north coast on a week that was mostly forgotten amid the heroics of victor Shane Lowry.
By the time Woods had arrived in Portrush he had seen it all and come back. Few were expecting him to face another serious physical setback, when in February 2021 the car he was driving an estimated 120km/h crashed into a tree and began rolling over, leaving him with severe injuries.
Making the cut at Augusta last week while playing his first professional event in two years was a testament to the man’s will and Irish galleries will flock to get a rare sighting of the almost mythical sporting figure that is Tiger Woods.