Interesting place California. Bit wacky, bit cool, still laid-back and still feeding off its old Sixties image as the world centre for happy, hippy people. Listen carefully in the older streets of San Francisco or San Diego and you can still hear The Doors playing somewhere.
For much of the last 100 years the Golden State has been the place of dreams, of Hollywood and Silicon Valley and men and women who travelled far and hard to find their fate and hopefully make their fortune. Whatever else California has been, it has most definitely been a place where redemption of some sort is believed to be popularly available.
Set in this context it was good recently to watch as Tiger Woods did what he always used to do and birdie the last two holes to finally win again. Okay, it was his own charity-raiser, the preposterously named Chevron World Challenge, and there were fewer competitors than you’ll find in the average Thursday roll-up, but it was still a victory for the once mighty one.
Now there are those out there who will be upset that Woods has got another of his ‘Ws’ on his curriculum vitae. Inevitably there is a posse of people who feel that he has not yet paid a tough enough penalty for his ‘sins’ and there is also another mean group who just love to see the most talented brought down closer to their own mundane level.
Like almost everyone else on the planet I don’t know him. Sure, I’ve interviewed him, stood with him on a practice range, joined in countless press conferences when he has held court, used a lot of words and said very little of real interest.
He always has struck me as an obsessive, but then all the best people are whether they are sportsmen or journalists or, heaven help us, accountants. What I do know is that he led a weird childhood, has been in the public eye almost since before he was potty-trained and has occasionally suffered because of the colour of his skin.
At times I have felt sorry for him, at others I have been irritated by his arrogance and highly-refined sense of self. But when I have asked myself what I would have been like if I had lived his life, earned his money and bathed in the adulation he has received then I tend to forgive him some of the not-so-good stuff.
Factor in the manner in which he has single-handedly raised the profile of golf – while at the same time changing for the better this profile – and the majestic, gung-ho yet considered way in which he has often played this crusty old game then, ultimately, I have found much more to admire and respect than there is to grumble about.
He has paid the highest of prices for his misdemeanours, lost a wife and daily contact with his children, lost the most lucrative portfolio of sponsors ever put together for a sportsman and been publicly humiliated. On top of these penalties his inevitable loss of self-esteem and thus mental strength has exposed the fragility of a body that has been battered by relentless practice for almost every year of his life to date.
Now patched-up, his legs sewn back into something like their old strength, he appears to have the physical side of his life in order again. What he needs now is a lasting readjustment of his brain and an acceptance that he can never quite be again what he once was.
But what he can be is almost as good and almost as good should still mean that he is at least the equal of the best the opposition can offer. He is still a long way from this bright place, but winning again surely is a huge step in the right direction. His joy was good to see, his smile suggesting that he had just crossed an important bridge to his future.
This is good news for him, but it is also terrific for those of us who love the game and who seek to witness the best players playing at their best. The prospect of Woods taking on the likes of Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy and Martin Kaymer in 2012 is mouth-watering indeed.
It may be a false dawn, but I sincerely hope not. Tiger Woods has suffered enough over the last couple of years. It is time to move on and to re-insert himself into the elite group at the top of the rankings. As his fellow Californian Brian Wilson once wrote, ‘wouldn’t it be nice’.
Happy New Year Tiger. And to you all.