What, you might ask, is Tiger Woods doing whacking golf balls across a bridge over the Bosphorus? Like any independent trader, yes that’s how Woods described himself in Turkey, the world no.1 golfer goes where the money is. In this case £1m for tooling up at the Turkish Airlines Open, which begins in Antalya on Thursday. Prize money is just a bonus.
This is Turkey's entry into the global golf market, her first European Tour event aimed at driving golf tourism in the south and projecting the country as a nation going places. The appearance of Woods is central to the piece, guaranteeing the requisite media gaze upon the region that your standard world class golfer just does not command.
Woods plays in the final group tomorrow alongside the only current major winner in the field. The US Open champion, Justin Rose, also spoke today but his appearance was not a state-backed premier. Rose addressed reporters in the media centre at the host site, the splendid Montgomerie course. The organisers cleared a conference suite at the Maxx Royal Hotel for Woods, who sat at the top table alongside the Turkish minister for Culture and Tourism, the right honourable Omer Celik, who spoke of the wondrous benefits of connecting to the wider world through golf.
Billionaire Woods wouldn't disagree. His appearance at a ceremonial eight-man event in Antalya last year caused a minor public incident when the President of the Turkish Golf Federation, Ahmet Agaoglu, was forced to apologise after lamping a photographer who dared infringe Woods' personal space. Thus far the Woods carnival has not claimed any victims, though in his own words he risked an "international incident" as he attempted to straddle Europe and Asia with a golf ball.
"I've hit balls down runways at airports before but never down a bridge. And the scary part was, I just flew in from a 12-hour journey, hopped off a plane and had to hit driver down the narrowest fairway I've ever seen. The wind was coming off the left a little bit and all these cars were driving on the right, so if I lose any balls to the right, there's an international incident right there. So that was a little nerve-wracking," Woods said. "Trust me, every ball drew. It was pretty cool. I think somebody was telling me I hit one 550 metres (601 yards) or something like that, so not bad."
This event is the third of four tournaments in the inaugural Final Series, the European Tour's attempt to emulate the FedEx Play-offs in America and end the season with a flourish. It has not been without controversy since the demands of playing tours either side of the Atlantic has seen big ticket-sellers like Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Sergio Garcia skip Turkey in favour of rest, which was absolutely not in the plan.
The appearance of Woods has plugged the gap but the tour cannot rely on independent tradesmen to bail them out every year. Emergency callouts are just too expensive.
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