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'Tiger has Box Office appeal'

Sky Sports logo Sky Sports 01-01-2016 skysports.com

In the week where Tiger Woods turn 40, Sky Sports Golf presenter David Livingstone recalls his early memories of the former world No 1 and looks back at the highlights of the 14-time major champion's career. 

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The first time I ever met Tiger Woods was at the US Open in 1996 at Oakland Hills, where he made the cut but showed signs of inexperience by trying to take on water hazards and doing things he wouldn't do later in his career. There was already a real kind of buzz about him after he'd played at the Masters the previous year, even though there was still an element of unknown about him.

He came up to be interviewed after his second round, when one of the US Open media officials nudged me and said this was the first time he'd made the cut in a major. I'd completely forgotten about Augusta a year earlier and during the live interview asked how it felt to make his first major cut, only to be met by a steely eyed look.

Tiger was gangly and loose-limbed and appeared to be a shy teenager, but there was no wide-eyed innocence about him when he told me 'nope, this isn't the first time; I did it in the Masters'. He already knew what he was about and what he could achieve.

He was just a college kid being coached by Butch Harmon before he turned professional and you could see straight away there was something different about him and that he was bred for success. There was never any doubt in my mind and his career quickly escalated.

The big talking point was whether Woods would make enough over September and October just to keep his card for the following year, but he did that by making plenty and winning in Las Vegas. He won $262,000 for that, which is a figure that sticks in my head for some reason, and saw him qualify for the season-ending Tour Championship.

He didn't play very well that week as his dad fell suddenly ill during the night, but from then we knew he clearly belonged at the top and obviously the Masters the following April saw him off and running.

Tiger's highlights

In 2008, you knew something special had happened and you would need a doctor to explain just how he managed to win the US Open. People say he won it on a broken leg, but I don't think any of us will know exactly what was going on that week and exactly how much pain he was in at any given time.

It was an amazing performance and was brilliant because he was doing what he loved to do in adversity, but I preferred him when he was the Rolls Royce during the start of the Tiger Slam in 2000.

If you asked me to pick one week that stands out in his career, I'd say the US Open at Pebble Beach for all kinds of reasons. Not only did we win by such a large number of shots, but he defied the American golf writers who said he was too wild and too inconsistent to win a US Open.

He was actually leading from the front and giving no one else a look-in. My colleague Bruce Critchley always says golf isn't perfectible, but for me that's as near to perfection as you'll get in any sport. It was the same a month later at St Andrews and he went on to get all four, but I don't think his domination continued at anywhere near the same level after that.

Rich Beem showed at the 2002 PGA Championship to other golfers that Tiger wasn't unbeatable, which just so happened to also be the weekend where his relationship with Butch Harmon began to fall apart. He obviously continued to do tremendous things, but wasn't winning major after major in the same manner he was before.

Other players started seeing him as someone they could beat, and Woods then started getting wins in streaks from then on in. I don't think you'll ever see the dominance of 2000 like we see again.

I never thought he'd beat Jack Nicklaus' record when he came back from his off-course problems, as I doubted whether someone who had gone through what he had would ever have the same nerve again. I honestly believe that has been proven.

He always prided himself on a level of perfection in terms of image, his appearance and everything around that but to me that was all punctured by everything that happened in 2009.

In anytime since then, even in 2013 when he won five times comfortably, I think his mind had changed and he'd lost that solitary target to just win tournaments.

Looking ahead

If Woods does have to retire, then I'm not too sure that one individual can drive the game again the way he did. I think there's a group of people that can probably collectively do it in McIlroy, Day, Spieth and Fowler, but I always felt Tiger was a bit like a one-man relay team. It was as if Tiger had to run every leg while the others only had to run once.

The game will miss his individual pulling power and it will be difficult for anyone to step in, certainly in American terms, and reach that box office appeal. He wasn't only winning more majors than anyone else but in many ways he was also uniting America, motivating young black kids to play the game and making the vast majority of people respect him as a real golfing god. 

Whether he comes back and plays or not, he has left a great playing legacy, but maybe he feels now that he needs to build a new phase in his life where can actually interact with people and do something to help others.

The Ryder Cup role is perfect for him, as he never needed people before but does now. It has been obvious over the past year during his decline that he seems to crave a new relationship with the players and the fans. He has lived a solitary life for so long and in all the years of him dominating he was the type of guy that would shoot off straight after a round. 

From what I think he was telling us in his recent press conferences, he is ready for a new stage in his life.

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