In the immediate wake of Tiger Woods' first-round birdie on 17 at The Genesis Invitational in California, the camera panned around the hundreds of fans packed into the stands. The unbridled joy on so many of their faces once again reminded us – if we needed it – there are Tiger birdie celebrations and then there are birdie celebrations for everyone else.
It’s not the noise or the animated responses but the expressions. It is smiles so broad that the faces are struggling to contain them. When you are in the presence of greatness that is difficult to comprehend, it does funny things to you.
At the 2006 Open, I watched Tiger tee off with a two iron. The ball rose steadily like a plane for about 150 yards before, suddenly, the angle of its ascent changed, rising more steepily for about 30 yards before reverting back to its original launch angle.
My friend and I – both of us can really get the ball out there – looked at each other in disbelief and it was tinged with emotion. There was a hard swallow and a gentle nod of acknowledgement.
It has become an ‘I was there’ moment and the hundreds of thousands of golf fans, who have been lucky enough to see him in the flesh, will be able to share similar tales.
As the 15-time Major champion nears the end of his astonishing career, those moments become even more special because we all know each one might be the last. It’s the same reason rock bands announce ‘one more tour’. The last chance; the last dance.
It also means Tiger has an element of mystique to add to everything else he has going for him. Even with Rory in tow, he is still the biggest draw. Nobody is even in the conversation.
As Phil Mickelson once said: ‘This is Tiger’s world. We just live in it.’
That was uttered at the height of his powers but still rings true at the age of 47. The rest of the course was virtually empty while spectators fought to get a glimpse of the great man.
Towards the end of the Sky broadcast Nick Dougherty acknowledged the fact there had clearly been a few complaints regarding the relentless focus on the group containing Tiger, Rory and Justin Thomas. Dame Laura Davies was also commentating at the time and could hardly hide her disbelief at the idea of not covering Tiger blow by blow.
I also did chuckle to myself at the thought of the Sky bosses having to tell their advertisers: ‘…yes I appreciate Tiger is still very popular but Keith Mitchell was on a real charge…’ I can only guess at the increase in viewing figures the sports channel got last night.
Tiger will remain box office until the day he hangs up his clubs.
And he deserves to be.
No one person in modern-day history has positively affected the fortunes of a sport more than Tiger Woods has with golf. Not even Michael Jordan or Roger Federer or Serena Williams or Lionel Messi of Cristiano Ronaldo… in fact they don’t even come close.
Historically I'm not sure even the likes of Muhammed Ali/boxing or Babe Ruth/baseball match what Tiger did for golf. Not on so many levels.
Of course he is far from perfect. We all know about his considerable aberrations but – I am separating the man and the golfer here – watching him in full flow remains an absolute privilege. I am already looking forward to the day I can tell my grandchildren about that 2 iron at Hoylake.
Of course he is not the same player but that doesn't matter.
Just enjoy him while you can, because there will never be another one like him.