A fortnight ago, Paul Casey claimed a second PGA Tour victory – his first since 2009. The one-shot triumph extended Tiger Woods’ own hoodoo, which now stretches to 29 tournaments without a win. Yet, in the two weeks since, Casey’s success has not so much gone under the radar as completely ignored. Ordinarily, this would be a great shame. Casey’s story is a modern-day inspiration in a sport still swamped with traditionalism, but awash with enormous prizes at the top end.
It is a tale of mental fortitude and great bravery. Ranked 133rd in the world in 2012, Casey turned his back on European golf for the United States and set his sights on rediscovering the form that made him the world No3 in 2008. Here he is now, without a doubt, England’s top golfer.
However, and much to the chagrin of those for whom Woods is too flaunted, the American is the story because he was the best and he was the greatest. And we think he’s back, yet nobody is really sure. How can they be? Sport has a horrible habit of steering you down a fantasy road, only to swerve abruptly back to reality. Even last week, his charge down the back-nine at Bay Hill was brusquely curtailed by a crass shanked tee-shot.
Both at the Valspar Championship, where he fell short of Casey, and at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where Woods stumbled down the stretch after an exhilarating run of birdies, there were moments during which even the least romantic sports fan would struggle not to be paralysed with intrigue at what might be possible at Augusta next month.
To a degree, the argument is as theoretical as they come. The 14-time major winner last won when he obliterated the field at the 2013 Bridgestone Invitational. Yet, Woods transcends golf. These days, there cannot be many families huddled around their televisions watching golf on a Sunday evening. With Woods in the running though, it is unmissable viewing.
We love an underdog. While the greatest of them all is – by no means – the little guy, it would be the comeback of all comebacks if Woods were to win a fifth Masters.
Some have said that it’s written in the stars, that Woods is destined to achieve what three months ago might have seemed nigh-on unimaginable. In reality, the golfing landscape has never been so open. When Woods last won at Augusta, he was joined in the top 10 by something of a hotchpotch of names – DiMarco, Goosen, Hensby, Immelman, Pampling.
This time – more than a decade on, his rivals are gunning for him. For Spieth, for McIlroy, for so many of the generation that blossomed in Woods’ absence, the dream has always been to play not just with the man who inspired them, but in the form that inspired them.
It might finally be happening. It might not. Let’s enjoy it for however long it lasts. Simply, when Woods is at his best, there is no other story.