I had my first 18 holes of the season last week in an Open Championship media competition at Hoylake and, as you can probably imagine, it was an exercise in enjoyable, enthusiastic incompetence.

With a swing that was still clearly in hibernation and had about as much elegance as the laboured thrashings of a prison inmate breaking rocks for a stone culvert, I bookended the round with a brace of meaty eights. In between that, ahem, rousing start and grandstand finish, there were fleeting moments of implausible magic, regular bursts of flabbergasting madness and plenty of absurd mysteries that will remain unexplained.

Handing in my score to the organisers at the end, meanwhile, was the kind of sombre exchange of paraphernalia you’d get when a funeral director passes out a coffin cord card to the principal mourner. As I often say to those who ask how I played, “Well, it was a steady round sullied by a couple of pars.”

All being well, we’ll be back at Hoylake in the summer for the 151st Open. As for Tiger Woods returning to the course where he won his third Claret Jug in 2006? Well, that would appear a busted flush now.

News last week that he had undergone yet another operation prompted the usual panting fever of speculation about the end being nigh… again.

Woods, of course, has been teetering on the precipice of no return for over a decade now but has always delivered a Harvey Smith salute to the doubters. His astonishing Masters win in 2019, for instance, was the ultimate act of defiance. But how many acts are left?

This latest operation, to fuse the ankle that was shattered in a car crash, continues a familiar pattern in the Tiger tale. Woods gets hurt, he goes under the surgeon’s knife, we write him off, he comes back with dogged determination and whips everybody into a frenzy about the prospect of doing the things he used to do before he gets hurt again, retreats into convalescence and we all end up back at square one. On and on it goes. It can’t go on forever, though.

Whether it’s his knee, his back, his foot or his ankle, most of us are now so well-versed in the medical glossary of terms that accompany Tiger’s myriad surgical procedures, we could probably write an explorative thesis in The Lancet.

Woods is 47 but he’s an old 47, physically. Golf allows players to remain competitively relevant far longer than most other sports. Tom Watson nearly winning The Open at 59, Phil Mickelson landing the US PGA at 50 and Bernhard Langer still rattling off wins at 65 underline the age-defying wonders of this great generation game. The idea, however, of Woods adding to his vast haul of titles on the regular tour is rooted in the realms of sentimentality rather than reality. Now, cut that sentence out of the paper and when he wins in 2024, you can send it to me so I can eat it along with my hat.

What eager observers want him to do is in stark contrast to what his buckled, battered frame will allow him to do. Watching an agonised Woods hirple towards a withdrawal at the Masters, over the course where he had that seminal triumph 25 years earlier, was a sorry sight. It was certainly not the way he would want to be remembered; essentially a hobbling, part-time relic from a different age. Then again, the sheer bloody-mindedness, the slogs through the pain-barrier and the excruciating grind he endures just to get his body hauled on to the tee, has, in many ways, burnished the legend. The struggle continues to bring admiration. The words in a brief statement informing the world of his latest operation indicated that Woods will embrace that struggle yet again. “Tiger is currently recovering and looks forward to beginning his rehabilitation.”

Goodness knows when we’ll see him again but Woods is clearly not ready to give up on competing at the highest level even if the prospect of winning, or even contending, grows ever more fanciful. One scribbler jokingly likened Woods’s latest battle to the futile situation of the knight in Monty Python who wants to keep on fighting despite all being lost, including his two arms. “It’s just a flesh wound,” he declares with farcical resistance.

Woods, and Woods alone, will decide when his time is up. Until that day arrives, the when, where, will he, won’t he saga surrounding yet another comeback will roar on. Even in his absence, Woods remains an all-consuming presence.


The first major of the women’s season served up a thrilling finale with Lilia Vu edging out Angel Yin at the Chevron Championship. Vu had been a former world amateur No 1 but struggled with the transition to the pro scene and had pondered giving up the game. Her major moment was a great tale of persistence.

The event had moved from its traditional, iconic home of Mission Hills in California to Carlton Woods in Texas for sponsorship reasons. This was a big stage with big money. The big-time atmosphere, though, was sorely lacking due to the sparse crowds. It was a shame the first women’s major didn’t have a

major feel.