Danny Willett isn’t just the defending champion at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic this week. He will be vying to retain the Green Jacket when The Masters gets underway in early April. So, when a serious contender gets talking about Tiger Woods’ aura and his impact on golf, it is taken note of.
Tiger Woods had just hit the driving range of the Emirates Golf Club on Tuesday when Willett shared his earliest memories of one who world No 1 for a record 683 weeks. The Englishman was in the nascent stages of his career, but Tiger’s chip-in on the 16th towards the close of the 2005 Masters still stands out, as does the celebration with then-caddie Steve Williams after the ball rolled in.
“I remember that shot millions and millions of times,” said the world No 13. That shot and many such moments inspired his generation. “For guys my age, it spurred us on to train harder and try and accomplish even a minuscule amount of what he has,” said Willett.
The longest-running event of the Desert Swing, Willett felt it wasn’t for nothing that Tiger had chosen to make the “Major of the Middle East” a part of his comeback plan (from injury). “Tiger doesn’t play events because he wants to play them. He plays events because he knows he’s got a good chance when he turns up. He’s played well around this golf course and he’s got some good memories,” he said about the two-time winner (2006, 2008).
Willett sounded a warning before getting back to singing paeans. “A few of us are going to try and stop him, but it’s great to have him back playing. It’s great for the game and fortunately I’ll be around all week to witness it.”
“Arguably the greatest player of all time coming to Dubai to take the championship trophy away on Sunday,” bodes well for the sport, but whether he can touch the heights of yore remains to be seen.
As Sergio Garcia put it, “He’s got a lot of qualities and he can get to a high level. To get to that level is very difficult, even for him, because he’s 40 now. So his body doesn’t move the way it used to when he was 20, 25. We’ll see how it goes.”