With a little over a week separating him from the commencement of his US Open title defence, Graeme McDowell has sat down with Sky Sports (text at ESPN) to look back at his incredible 2010 and offer a few thoughts about events at Congressional. In addition to the more prosaic promotional spiel– course set-up, historical significance, why you might want to watch the US Open on Sky Sports, etc.– he also had a little to say about Tiger Woods’ withdrawal, only then being digested by the Twittersphere:
“We all look at the way his last couple of years has gone and now there are questions over his physical health… Will he be back? Nobody knows at the minute – there’s obviously a lot going on. His mental health is one question and his physical health is now another.
“When I saw him hobbling through the locker room at the Players Championship the warning signs were there, but we thought he’d be ready for the US Open. Tiger plays his cards close to his chest and it’s pretty difficult to know what’s going on, but obviously this is a lot more serious than we thought.
“His quest to beat Jack Nicklaus’s record is one of the great golf stories and we hope he gets better soon.”
Platitudinous conclusion aside, McDowell’s comments quietly reveal the extent to which Tiger’s name has, in the eyes of one of his colleagues at least, become synonymous with frailty.
If we’re at the stage now where another player is capable of legitimately questioning whether Tiger is even capable of returning to competitive golf, let alone surpassing Jack Nicklaus’s career record, surely the whole prolonged crisis has passed a tipping point of sorts? Having been drip-fed scandal after injury after allegation for nearly two years, maybe we’ve lost sight of just how dramatically the terms of the debate have shifted around us.
Casting every doubt against the supposedly stable background of Woods’ greatness, maybe we’ve failed to appreciate just how fragile that quality was in the first place. Rather than being some sort of immutable truth about Woods’ character, his innate heroism, it was the product of a delicate mental and physical balance, a state not only absent from his life as it stands now, but irrecoverable.
Listening to McDowell diplomatically float the idea of a career in terminal decline, you have to ask: is talk of an imminent Woods comeback finally worthy of being considered a grand sporting delusion?