DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – The same week one television analyst said Tiger Woods “looks like an old man,” and the same week the 41-year-old withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms under intense scrutiny, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson proved age is just a number.
While the debate over Woods’ future in competitive golf droned on, the 37-year-old Garcia went wire-to-wire in Dubai, enduring a marathon 28-hole Saturday because of weather delays.
That Stenson, 40, and Ian Poulter, 41, set out with the Spaniard in Sunday’s final group only served to make the point more relevant.
This seasoned threesome stood in sharp contrast to the current trend on the PGA Tour, which has seen its last five champions comprise an average age of 24.4. Oh, and your 54-hole frontrunner at the Waste Management Phoenix Open is 25-year-old Byeong Hun An.
And then there was Woods, who arrived in Dubai after a 17-hour trek from San Diego, looking jet-lagged and stiff. He was deliberate during Wednesday’s pro-am, tentative on Thursday on his way to an opening 77, and AWOL on Friday on his way to his seventh withdrawal since 2010.
Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee on Thursday called Woods “the oldest 41-year-old in the history of the game,” and that was before Woods cut out of town. Despite assurances from Tiger’s manager Mark Steinberg that Woods' back spasms aren’t associated with the nerve pain that caused him to miss all of 2016, a general sense of concern looms over the 14-time major champion’s future.
While some will focus on Woods’ age - including, regularly, Tiger himself - Garcia, Stenson and even Phil Mickelson, who at 46 began Sunday at TPC Scottsdale tied for 12th, continue to play quality golf.
When Stenson won The Open last year, he figured his best years were ahead of him. On Sunday in Dubai, he gushed over the prospect of a new season and sound body.
“I'm just working away on my game, trying to move all the positions forward and the time when we want to be peaking is obviously early April,” Stenson said. “That's what we're working towards, and yeah, it's a good, steady progress.”
A year ago, Stenson was drained by transatlantic travel and recovering from knee surgery that forced him to miss part of the European Tour’s desert swing. What a difference a year makes.
Garcia stands as an even more obvious paradigm of hope for Woods, having navigated a career filled with peaks and valleys, many born from personal more than physical challenges. After three winless years on the PGA Tour, he outdueled Brooks Koepka in extra holes last year at the AT&T Byron Nelson and on Sunday picked up his 12th title on the European circuit.
“I've been very open with you guys,” Garcia said. “When things are going well off the golf course it's much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course, because there's no worries. There's no worries outside and you can concentrate on what you're doing out there on the course.”
There’s no doubt that Woods faces his share of physical challenges in this current comeback, and maybe even a few internal demons as well. But those has nothing to do with his age.