Get the beers on ice – Tiger’s coming

Show me the money - Tiger Woods

Show me the money - Tiger Woods

Just a few short weeks after welcoming Tiger Woods back to the game, golf has found itself embroiled in a bitter controversy surrounding the world’s greatest player.

The biggest stooshie in world golf at the moment seems to be that a bunch of Australians trying to run a golf tournament have dared to dangle a brown envelope containing $3m in unmarked bills in front of Woods’ nose while making cooing noises and come here gestures in a bid to get him to come to their party.

Woods has now pocketed the brown envelope and booked his flight to play in the Australian Masters at Kingston Heath in Melbourne in November. And you can’t blame him.

And you know what? You can’t blame the organisers either. In times when there’s more golf tournaments than there are weeks of the year, not to mention the current economic gloom, it’s more important than ever for organisers to make their tournament stand out from the crowd and appeal to sponsors.

The column inches already afforded to a tournament that is still eight months away has entirely vindicated their decision and the media circus that will surround Woods in Melbourne before, during and after his first appearance Down Under in more than a decade will give the Australiasian Tour a profile it has never before enjoyed, as well as having the sponsors drooling.

Of course, it is because part of the $3m stumped up for Woods’ appearance is reportedly coming from the Victoria state government that has caused the controversy, even though state premier John Brumby has claimed it will bring in $19m to the economy. I’m not sure how many bottles of Toohey’s Extra Dry it took to come up with that figure, it does seem a bit excessive, but there’s no doubt that when Tiger comes to town it will be big business and he’ll more than pay for his appearance fee.

Indeed, top Australian golfer Stuart Appleby put it pretty bluntly and risked the wrath of the “common man” when he said: “It will be great for the game and bring out a lot of people who haven’t seen him before, in person, not on a video game.

“There’s a lot of people hurting in Australia, and they might look negatively that one guy is paid $3m just to turn up.  The common man won’t understand the business model because the government is paying for it. They might not see the money he brings in.”

Another major bone of contention is the perceived fact that it will take the shine off the Australian Open, staged just two weeks later and historically the more prestigious of the two tournaments. Five-time Open champion and arguably Australia’s greatest ever golfer, Peter Thomson, has waded into the debate by reportedly saying: “In my view it’s going to damage our national Open. He won’t be playing in that but it sucks up potential sponsorship.”

What Thomson may be failing to take into account is that Tiger’s appearances in anything but the big tournaments are a rarity, not least those that involve travelling halfway round the world to play on a tour as small as the Australiasian Tour.

The fact that he is willing to play, albeit thanks to a wad of cash, and that it coincides with a free week is a real coup and not something that organisers could have turned their noses up at.

Who’s to say they didn’t try to get him to the Australian Open a fortnight later? The fact that the Open falls on the same dates as the LG Skins match, or the week before Tiger’s own rearranged Chevron World Challenge Match renders it improbable in the extreme that he would have agreed to play on the opposite side of the planet for even double the $3m he is already receiving.

Australian golf fans should be applauding the tournament organisers and the Victoria state government for their ambition while getting the beers on ice and preparing to see one of the greatest sportsmen alive perform in the flesh.

Of course, I have’t yet touched on the frightening consequences that money, and who has most of it, is now having and will continue to have on the game of golf. But that’s for another blog entirely.

Murray’s conqueror Tsonga proves Grand Slam run is no fluke

I sincerely hope any Andy Murray detractors tuned in to see Jo-Wilfried Tsonga’s demolition of world number two Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open this morning.

On hearing that the Frenchman was two sets to love up and already had a break in the third set, I allowed myself a half hour’s break from the computer screen to watch the climax to the engrossing match. (the BBC Interactive red button coverage is tremendous, isn’t it?)

I was utterly amazed to see the previously unknown (at least unknown to non-Tennis afficionados like myself) Tsonga make Nadal look completely ordinary as he destroyed him 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 to set up his first Grand Slam final.

It wasn’t as if Nadal had come into the match on a poor run of form. He hadn’t dropped a set in the tournament up until that point and was many pundits’ tip for the title. This makes the annhiliation all the more incredible.

All of which must be music to Murray’s ears. The Scot was criticised in some quarters for failing to beat unseeded Tsonga in the first round, like it was his God-given right to march straight into the latter stages of the tournament because he had the number nine next to his name in the seedings.

Some asked whether Murray took Tsonga too lightly, whether his preparations were what they should have been and whether or not he simply bottled it because it was a Grand Slam. I had also wondered whether his decision last year to ditch Brad Gilbert as coach had a negative effect.

Thankfully Tsonga has put those questions to bed because he has proved he is a top player and, on this form, it is no disgrace for Murray to have lost – although there is no question that he played below par in the match.

After Murray’s loss, some of his fans also claimed that Tsonga’s victory was a fluke. That he played out of his skin for one match that would never be repeated. Those words are now being swallowed down along with a large helping of Humble Pie.

Tsonga will now likely face Roger Federer in the final – although Novak Djokovic will have something to say about that in the semis.

I am a big fan of Federer -anyone who dominates a sport as he does commands respect. However, it would be great to see another name on a Grand Slam trophy for once.

I had hoped it would be Murray’s name this time, but his shot will definitely come. This particular tournament belongs to Tsonga and I would love to see him add Federer’s name to his collection of scalps in the final.