Golf ‘not desperate’ for Tiger’s return

(FILES) This file photo taken on September 28, 2017 shows Captain's assistant Tiger Woods of the US Team during Thursday foursome matches of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, New Jersey. Woods, who tantalized fans with a Twitter video of himself hitting a driver on Sunday, has been cleared by doctors to resume full golf activities, ESPN reported on October 16, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / SAM GREENWOOD

HONG KONG — Golf no longer needs Tiger Woods to captivate global audiences because a new generation of young superstars has emerged in his absence, Olympic champion Justin Rose has said.

Woods’ agent set the golfing world abuzz this week after revealing the 14-time major-winner had been cleared by his doctor to begin full practice as he prepares for yet another comeback from injury.

But Rose, who won the US Open in 2013 and came runner-up at this year’s Masters, said the group of twenty-somethings now claiming golf’s top prizes had already eclipsed Woods’ absence.

“I think golf has found itself in a really healthy spot without Tiger at the moment,” Rose (37) said via teleconference, as it was announced he will contest next month’s Hong Kong Open.

“So many young players have come through and filled the void. I think to have him back is just a bonus. I don’t think golf is desperate for him back.”

Woods (41) has not won a tournament in four years, and his major drought stretches back to 2008.

After undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April, he said he may never play at the top level again.

But Woods, who has also been plagued by personal problems and pleaded guilty to driving under the influence in August, recently posted a video of himself using a driver, captioned “Making Progress”.

“Everyone just wants to see a healthy Tiger Woods,” Rose said. “It’s almost gone past the point of thinking ‘Oh, we all really want to see Tiger win 18 majors’.”

The Englishman added: “I think that we want him back, just because of what’s he’s meant to the sport for the last 20 years.”

Besides Rose’s loss to 37-year-old Sergio Garcia in a thrilling playoff at the Masters, this year’s other men’s majors were won by Americans Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, all in their early- or mid-twenties.

In a sport that traditionally favours comparatively older athletes, other heavyweights in the current world top 10 such as Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day are also yet to turn 30.

“It was definitely a year dominated by the young guys on tour,” Rose, who will join Garcia next month at Fanling for the Hong Kong Open, said.

Rose, a Hong Kong winner in 2015, said he was still disappointed to have missed out on Masters glory so narrowly to the Spaniard this year, but added that he was looking forward to the rematch.

“It was great to see him breakthrough and win his first Major — but, unfortunately, it was against me,” he said.

“It’ll be fun to have us both in the same field (in Hong Kong) . . . Sergio and I, we’ve joked all year long, had some fun with it all year long, so it will be a continuation of that.”