2008: The Year of the Tiger?

Another golfing year dawns. And forgive me please for abiding by the calendar year and not the ridiculous European Tour calendar.

What’s in store for 2008? A Ryder Cup that, whisper it across this continent, is probably in need of an American win. The plucky underdog tag can only carry Europe so far: another whitewash will suggest the Yanks just don’t care and the event, tarnished already by Tiger’s apparent ambivalence, will lose its allure.

After Padraig and Sergio’s one – two at Carnoustie in 2007 will 2008’s Majors give Europe more cheer? There is a chance. There are players that can challenge and Justin Rose is becoming a contender – certainly he has the talent perhaps there are also now signs of a temperament to match.

That said, however, there is a very real chance that this might be Tiger’s Slam year. Already he plays the best golf we have ever seen. Now, at 32, he is entering the peak years of a golfer. With courses that suit him, with a schedule that he designs so that he can be at his best when needs to be and with 13 majors behind him Tiger might be standing on the brink of his greatest hour.

Can an individual sport cope with such dominance? No, if the dominant force was anyone other than Tiger. But Woods has transcended golf and become a global figure. Sure, a Grand Slam would please the marketing men that make millions from Tiger but it would also be the realisation of a lifelong dream and the fulfilment of a prophecy and a potential that would have crippled lesser athletes.

The sporting story, the real sporting story – not the one dreamt up in the corridors of Nike HQ, is that a young man with sublime talent will have touched perfection in his chosen field. That is what sport is all about and it is that story that will touch the millions of people to whom golf is Tiger and the millions of children who will suddenly begin to dream the impossible dream.

Jack Nicklaus once said that he hoped Tiger wouldn’t win the Grand Slam too early because it might rob him of his hunger for more. You’ll notice that even at that point Jack felt that a Grand Slam would happen one day. A Slam in 2008 would leave Tiger only one major away from equalling Nicklaus’ own record: motivation to carry on to that target and beyond won’t be a problem.

Tiger’s Grand Slam would carry the gospel of golf far beyond the links of St Andrews or the pristine fairways of Augusta. 2008 would be Tiger’s year but it would also be golf’s year. And none of us can ask for any more than that.

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