McIlroy awaits returning Tiger

As 2015 dawns the golfing world inevitably turns its thoughts to the forthcoming season.

Rory McIlroy’s outstanding 2014 is seen by many as the template for the months ahead, and there is no denying the Northern Irishman’s formidable superiority – not to mention his prominence in the betting. But Tiger Woods’ millions of followers will be hoping that the real success story of last year took place away from the course.

The back surgery that Woods underwent took longer to overcome than many had anticipated. Woods underwent a microdiscectomy to relieve pressure on a nerve from a damaged disc in April. But the signs are – at last – that the operation has been successful.

Effectively, Woods’ extended recuperation ruined his year and for all he made a ‘comeback’ of sorts in the USPGA in August it was only later in the year that the 14 time major winner was able to fully enjoy benefits of the surgery. Illness during the Hero World Challenge event which he hosts annually put paid to the rest of his competitive year, but the noises coming out of the Woods camp have been notably positive in recent weeks.

Woods has spoken of being able to move freely and free of pain in a way that he has not experienced for years. Writing in his end of year blog for the PGA Woods admitted:

“Even though I won five times two years ago, it was hit or miss some weeks and got progressively worse. Now that it feels healthy, strong and stable, it’s fun to be able to play with my kids again, to play soccer and run around with them, shoot hoops … things that I used to do and took for granted. For anybody who has ever had a bad back with nerve damage, it’s downright debilitating. To not feel that is finally just incredible relief.”

The prospect of a fully fit and fully recharged Woods at the top of his game going head to head with McIlroy is a prospect that golf watchers would give their eye teeth for. The betting possibilities for 2015 – and the majors in particular – is still at an early stage but the possibility that the two greatest talents of recent years could be about to battle it out mano a mano in a true test of their mettle would have sponsors, bookmakers, punters and fans alike all glued to their screens.

Golf is a sport more than most whose champions are measured in terms of who they defeat as much as what they win. Great champions are remembered for the men they beat as much as anything else. That’s what makes the historic standing of the likes of Nicklaus and Watson so remarkable. In that sense McIlroy needs Woods to be at his best to prove just how great a champion he can become.

If Woods can recapture some of the shock and awe that characterised his early career, and if McIlroy can maintain last year’s form we could be set for a truly spectacular year of golf. Let’s hope it turns out that way – Tiger Woods has fought through so much, and with such courage and patience that he surely deserves at least one more summer at the pinnacle of the game – it is still not the same without him.

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