Woods Inc enjoy a Turkish delight
World's top-ranking players revel in a relaxed time away from the packaged rituals of life on tour
A junket for golfing A-listers, eh? Tell that to the kids shipped in from the far side of the moon, aka eastern Turkey, for a clinic with Tiger Woods. This was the first time some had seen a driving range, let alone a golf course. At home in the Turkish interior they hit balls off rough ground into farmers' fields. Here they were adjusting the position of their right elbows according to the prompts of the great Tiger. There were tips, too, from Rory McIlroy, a lesser god only by degree in the eyes of these golfing innocents.
Equally, the eight players from the top of the world rankings appeared in their own way liberated by the Turkish experience. This was a million miles from the packaged rituals of life on tour. Matt Kuchar stopped off in Greece en famille for a few days. This weekend, "Kooch tours" continue in Istanbul. Who says the American golfer is one-dimensional? According to those closest to him, Woods has been the most relaxed he has ever been beyond the American frontier.
According to Chubby Chandler, who orchestrated the Turkish Airlines World Golf Final, Turkey was an easy sell to Woods Inc. "Yes, he has a value. All sportsmen have. But the money never makes the difference. Tiger has more than enough of that. We offered something different, in a place he had never been. He was able to have dinner in the restaurant and not have people staring at him all the time. In the players' lounge he has been one of the lads. You don't see that much either. I asked Steiny [agent Mark Steinberg] and he said Tiger was loving it. The night on the range working the Turkish juniors was the highlight of the week for me.
"For Turkey this is the realisation of a 10-year dream. These kids have now got idols. Don't forget some of them don't have TVs. The best two players in the world, four of the world's top five, are teaching them on a range. That's pretty special. Yes, there will always be negative comments about players coming over to events like this. But people have not understood the big picture. Turkey is at the start of something. The golf was great. Don't tell me Tiger was not up for it, or that Lee enjoyed losing in the final. Tiger was at the club at 5.45am Tuesday morning."
This is the epoch in which it pays to excel at sport. Golf is not the only mechanism for casting careers in gold. Neither is it unique in charging a buck for a service rendered. The word "obscene" was pinned to this event, but every last penny added up for Turkey. Kent Agrali is a member of the Turkish Golf Feder-ation board, responsible for the junior programme, overseeing the free distribution of sets of clubs to kids. "For people here this is unbelievable. You can't imagine what it means, not only for the youngsters at the clinic here, but in Istanbul and across the country to see Tiger Woods in Turkey, to see him on TV in Antalya, to read about him in the papers. It is unbelievably big for us."
Justin Rose and Lee Westwood contested a final that was supposed to be the domain of Tiger and Rory. It was a decent scrap, keenly contested. The pair shook hands, went to lunch and returned in the afternoon for the pro-am, by which time the golfing order had righted itself and the result was buried beneath an avalanche of interest in Woods and McIlroy. The head of the Turkish federation, Ahmet Agaoglu, was paired with Woods. His name was not pulled out of a hat. "Tiger Woods, I have bought you for the next five hours," he said. He had, at roughly £8,000 an hour.
McIlroy was joined by a 15-year-old German, Dominic Foos, who played in Chicago on the junior Ryder Cup team. Foos plays off four, which means only school is preventing him from turning pro.
Thus did Woods and McIlroy end the pageant as they had begun it, as the stars of the show. This is the dynamic at the heart of the game, the passing of history's baton from the icon of the era to the next in line. Woods is playing as well as ever tee to green, though the putts don't drop like they used to. Perhaps they never will. He will not stop searching for that old certainty on the greens but appears more at ease with himself than at any time since his halo slipped in November 2009, and relaxed, too, about the rise of McIlroy.
"This is a different generation for me. The guys I have gone head to head with in the last decade plus, Vijay [Singh], Ernie [Els], Phil [Mickelson], Goos [Retief Goosen] Paddy [Padraig Harrington], are all in their forties. Others are on the Champions Tour. Rory is 23. He is still getting started.
"I have talked about this with Jack [Nicklaus] several times. He found it fun to be part of the conversation from the Hogan days through Watson and on to Seve and all those guys. I'm part of that same conversation. You know, who is the best player?
"To be part of something like that is pretty neat. I've been out here 17 full seasons. I'm still part of the conversation, which for me is great."
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