Tiger Woods is back and competing but Rory McIlroy's victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational is the best news golf has had all year, writes Chris Bailey
All is well in golf again and the Tiger effect only tells one part of the story.
As much as it is exhilarating for supporters, organisers and advertisers to see an unimpeded Woods on the prowl again, the great man’s return is a bonus in a sport that was beginning to get used to life without him. The return of the Mac, however, carries more importance to the wider game.
Woods’ enforced retirement, at the age of 42, would have been a shame. For Rory McIlroy to have played his best golf by the age of 28 would have been a downright sporting tragedy.
At the Arnold Palmer Invitational, the Northern Irishman ended a victory drought that lasted 539 days which, for a player of his talent and youth, did not bode well for the future of the game.
McIlroy’s star will never burn as bright as Tiger’s supernova in the early 2000s, of course. But if Rory had imploded for good, it would have only added to the vacuum of personalities at the very top.
Jordan Spieth has the talent, Jon Rahm is giving it a good go and everyone loves Sergio Garcia. Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are exceedingly nice and gifted men.
None of those names would feel right on the cover of the latest PGA Tour game, or as the poster boy of a brand like Nike.
Which it is why it was so worrying when a combination of rib and back injuries curtailed McIlroy’s 2017. The ultimate athlete, like Tiger, and consequently more susceptible to injury, like Tiger.
Woods revolutionised the image of golfers from expert operators in the bodies of Average Joes to role models who could look just as impressive on the cover of GQ as on the PGA fairways.
With increased muscle and agility came increased torque and power. But just as most muscle cars are not known for their reliability, highly-tuned human machines also break down.
Woods was forced to undergo a knee operation because of the stresses he put his body through at around the same age as McIlroy. The return to form is welcome, but surgery after surgery can only mean that his body is old before its time.
These are lessons that McIlroy, back up to No7 in the world, would do well to heed. His victory on Sunday came after his seventh tournament in nine weeks – a schedule as hectic as it has ever been.
Palmer, a seven-time major winner, won at least one PGA Tour competition every year between 1955 and 1971. Given that McIlroy is still committed to playing many European Tour events, a tour that did not exist until 1972, he is putting his body through the wringer far more than Palmer would have ever dreamed of doing.
For now, ‘Wee Mac’ is looking back to somewhere near his best after slogging through the Valspar Championship looking nothing like it just a week ago.
It’s a measure of his talent that he can reel off five birdies over the last six holes at Bay Hill when his putting had looked so badly out of whack for most of the year to date.
His accuracy off the tee could do with some work and he could do without relying on his powers of recovery so much – but that he can overcome all of that and win is a golden sign ahead of his Green Jacket hunt in two weeks’ time.
Most of the cameras will be following Tiger around Augusta, but his revival will likely only be fleeting.
And when McIlroy is in his 40s, even a healthy Woods will be serenading the senior tours by then. We can only hope that the greens will still be dancing to Rory’s tune.