Not for the first time in his life, one imagines, Tiger Woods has withdrawn.
He will not burn bright, neither in the forests of the night nor on the fairways of Gleneagles at next month’s Ryder Cup.
As he goes off for yet more back surgery Mr Woods, it is widely felt, has done the right thing by making himself unavailable for the American team – for which he would not have qualified on merit – and sparing their captain Tom Watson the difficult decision of whether to hand him one of his wildcard picks.
Really? How difficult a decision would it have been? Even during the many peaks of an almost incomparably glorious career, now in a possibly terminal trough, he has never shown much appetite for the game’s premier team event.
Since his Ryder Cup debut 17 years ago, he has registered just one victory – that controversy-rich nailbiter at Brookline in 1999. That the game’s great light has almost never burned in a decade and a half of Ryder Cup matches is no small factor in his country’s dismal recent record in the competition. During America’s solitary victory in the past 15 years, in 2008 at Valhalla, the Tiger was watching on television, his fearful symmetry compromised by extensive reconstruction work on his left knee.
Back then, European golf fans could have been forgiven for not staying up to watch the humiliating pictures coming in from the famous golf club in Kentucky. Not so this week, when millions sat in front of their televisions until almost two o’clock in the morning, watching the four best golfers in the game – Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and Henrik Stenson – fight it out for the PGA title at the same venue, all the way around the course, right up to the 18th green, and the best man, McIlroy winning.
There was a strange dissonance then, in watching Tiger Woods struggling with back spasms, before retiring from the competition. Golf’s most luminous talent in history, desperate to get over that final but giant obstacle and overhaul Jack Nicklaus’s majors record, but it’s a finish line that seems farther and farther away the harder he tries to get there.
More authoritative golfing voices than this column have wondered at great length over whether he can possibly return to his happy place, before that incandescent argument with his ex-wife as he drove away from the family home, that precipitated a near never-ending line of highly talkative porn stars willing to attest to a primeval nature in the Tiger, as awesome as anything William Blake had imagined.
There should be no direct causational link between time being called on that most monumentally nefarious lifestyle, and such an extended dip in form – though it may partly explain the back spasms – but this column struggles to think of anyone in any line of work who, on suddenly having to stop treating the American porn industry as one’s own private sexual pick‘n’mix, wouldn’t start underperforming in the work place.
There are many who still want to Save the Tiger. Certainly he is not yet extinct, but the conservation effort is less urgent than it has ever been. There were long years when it was felt that golf needed Tiger. That is not the case any more. The Ryder Cup will be a better competition without him.
Topless scandal gives Mullera something to recall fondly
Whenever a commentator turns suddenly to disdainful tones and reaches for that timeless phrase – “what an utterly stupid thing to do” – it is almost always to fill the air time while the cameras are turned in the other direction and the at least half naked man is taken to ground by the stewards.
More problematic even for a broadcaster of Steve Cram’s supreme talent is when the gentleman stripping off and bounding over the hurdles is also Europe’s premier steeplechaser and is on the home straight about to claim gold.
France’s Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad has previous on erratic behaviour, not least when he pushed over a giant furry mascot that turned out to have a 14-year-old girl inside, so he might be bemused that this latest. comparatively minor, outrage should be the one that has robbed him of a medal.
“He needs to be careful. That’s a disqualification offence,” Crammy warned, as he held his sweat-soaked vest in his teeth and leapt the last jump before surging over the line in first. In the end, the authorities merely let him off with a warning, but a formal complaint from the Spanish team, for whom there was a bronze medal in it, saw him officially disqualified and Angel Mullera bumped up to the podium.
Congratulations to him. Winning a European Championship medal is not an easy thing to do. But easier, you’d have to think, than explaining it when that bronze is brought down from the attic one Christmas decades from now, and the grandkids, wide-eyed in wonderment, want to know how he won it. Disdain, like the steeplechase, goes round in circles.