It’s reputed to be the best, most dramatic and most exciting day of the golfing year. It is first-round day at the WGC Accenture Match Play when the top 64 players in the world go head to head.
Indeed there is an argument to say this tournament should start on a weekend and finish midweek to ensure the biggest audience for when the action is at its most relentlessly compelling.
And it’s worth noting that had such scheduling been in place this year there would have been even greater benefit. The tournament would have gained due prominence instead of being completely overshadowed because even the best day of the year pales when Tiger Woods steals the agenda.
We were looking forward to the imminent arrival of live pictures in the media centre at Dove Mountain when a yellow strap line suddenly appeared at the bottom of the big screen. “Tiger Woods news conference 11am Eastern Time”.
It might have been the first round of the Match Play, but you could forget the golf.
Tiger was going to break his long silence and if ever confirmation was needed of the hold the exiled world number one has on the game it came that Wednesday morning.
It threw us into a frenzy of speculation over when he will return. It also had us concluding that this was a vengeful act against Accenture who had ended their sponsorship of him in the wake of his spectacular fall from grace.
What on earth was the PGA Tour doing in indulging Woods by providing their headquarters for his statement in the middle of the biggest tournament of the year to date? This was proof that someone is actually bigger than the game.
Leading manager Andrew “Chubby” Chandler initially fretted as his young charge Rory McIlroy speculated that Woods‘ timing was down to getting back at his former sponsors. As the week went on the agent became more relaxed; McIlroy had been firmly in tune with his fellow players.
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After Woods’ Friday mea culpa Chandler was happy to give his views to Five Live listeners by wondering whether Woods had brought the game into disrepute. “You get banned for that sort of thing don’t you?”
His comments showed that the golfing world will never quite be the same again. For the first time people in the game are now prepared to be openly critical of him. Woods doesn’t command the all-conquering respect he has had for the rest of his career.
“It’s been going on for months now and it’s too long,” said Oliver Wilson after winning through to the quarter-finals. “We want him back on the course; we want him to sort his life out.”
Sergio Garcia said Woods would be “welcomed back with open arms”. Yes the players know how valuable he is to the game, but they also know that Woods will be an opponent with flaws and vulnerabilities they will fancy trying to expose.
They also know when he comes back they can stop talking about his absence which will please them no end. The trouble is we still don’t know when that will be.
Let’s hope another great day of golf isn’t ruined when we find out.