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Tiger Woods’ other match: from real golf to virtual golf

The 47-year-old legendary champion of 15 majors creates an exhibition league and opens a course as he struggles to return to play after yet another physical torment

Tiger Woods Augusta 2023
Tiger Woods, at the last Augusta Masters.Associated Press/LaPresse (Associated Press/LaPresse)

He is number 1,283 in the world ranking, on December 30 he will be 48 years old and in April he underwent surgery on his right ankle, the umpteenth operation after 10 procedures on his knees and back and a traffic accident that almost cost him his right leg. Only a mind of steel and an uncontainable desire to feel like a golfer again, hanging by a very thin thread, sustain Tiger Woods’ sporting career. The winner of 15 majors is a limping man, and in recent months he has hobbled around a golf course, the few times he has been able to do so, suffering to go through the 18 holes without the help of an electric cart. Despite his scarred body, Tiger refuses to retire, convinced that he still has one last dance left, at least a farewell at the Augusta Masters.

That’s the game Tiger is still playing. Meanwhile, another is gaining ground, his life without a golf club in his hands. Since Thursday, the World Wide Technology Championship is being played in Mexico, a tournament of the U.S. circuit that takes place at the El Cardonal course in Los Cabos, the first layout designed by Woods to make its debut in the elite of the PGA Tour. The course creator traveled there, one of the very few public appearances of the legend since the last Masters. Tiger has competed in dribs and drabs since he crashed his car and shattered his right leg in February 2021. In 2022 he was 47th at Augusta, withdrew at the PGA Championship and missed the cut at the 150th British Open at St. Andrews. This year, even less: 45th at the Genesis and withdrew from the Masters after playing seven holes on the third day and play was suspended due to rain, when he was last in the standings with nine strokes over par. The cold and humidity punished the old Tiger, who once again left the image of a man who even had trouble standing up. Ten days after that farewell, the door of the operating room opened again to repair a bad ankle. Today he struggles to walk down some stairs in Los Cabos and it seems unlikely that at the end of November he will be able to compete in the Hero World Challenge, the event he is hosting. “I appreciate just being able to play. I’ll never be the same. I understand that,” he admitted earlier in the year.

The golfer Tiger is now the designer Tiger and, above all, the Tiger who is getting into show business. The American has promoted, together with Rory McIlroy, the Tiger Woods League, an exhibition league that will be played on 15 Mondays next year and that mixes virtual and real golf. He will be joined by six of the current top 10 players in the world (McIlroy, Homa, Schauffele...) despite the last-minute withdrawal of Jon Rahm, who has just announced his decision to opt out. “I still think it’s a great opportunity, but right now it requires a level of commitment that I can’t offer,” explained the Basque, to whom these days of entertainment would distract from the goal of increasing his collection of two majors (US Open in 2021 and Masters in 2023).

The Tiger League will be played in teams, just like a part of the Saudi breakthrough competition that raised so many eyebrows. There will be six sets of four golfers each, facing each other from January in 15 qualifying rounds until a final to which the best two will qualify. Each event consists of 15 holes, nine in alternate stroke format and six in individual duels. And with a strange mix of virtual and real golf. Players will tee off in front of a giant simulator screen, 20 times larger than usual, and for shots of less than 50 yards they will access a normal course, the green zone, a playing area that can alter the slope of the green depending on the hole played.

The golfers will wear microphones to capture their comments, and all matches will be played at the newly created SoFi center on the campus of Palm Beach State College in Florida. The show, which will be broadcast on ESPN, is rounded out by another roster of stars who will own the franchises: sisters Serena and Venus Williams, the Antetokounmpo brothers, Alex Morgan, Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson....

Tiger is moving towards the new life that awaits him when he leaves professional golf, still with the question of whether he will want to participate in the senior circuit once he turns 50. In his new show he will hardly have to walk, his biggest nightmare. The magic is still in his hands, and in his head the hunger for triumph has not been quenched. It is the legs that no longer accompany a legend who has walked further than anyone else.

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