The story goes that when Tiger Woods first touched down in Dubai 18 years ago, enticed by a vast appearance fee to reflect his three major wins the previous season, Darren Clarke and a few others were eager to take him out on the town.

Drinking options were hardly abundant in the Gulf state but his peers felt he should see more of the place than a golf course and an opulent hotel.

Woods, by all accounts, was tempted, but ultimately beyond persuasion. He was at the zenith of his fame, ergo the risks of a PR misfire were too great. As such, with a certain sadness, he stayed sequestered in his seven-star cage.

Fast-forward to his experience last weekend in Chiba, Japan, and the contrast could hardly be starker.


The headline, of course, was that he won an 82nd PGA Tour title to equal Sam Snead's record but it was his extramural exploits that revealed more about how Woods has changed.

With the second day's play cancelled due to storms, he headed out with some friends to catch a screening of Joker. So far, so unusual. But as the rain turned roads into rivers and meant the courtesy cars could not pick them up, Woods and his frat pack — including Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson — repaired to a Domino's for pizza.

Such was the preciousness of his relative anonymity. When he and girlfriend Erica Herman went to a 7-Eleven store, only two fans asked for selfies. For most, this is normal enough. For Woods, it is so unheard-of as to offer a priceless study into his midlife reinvention.

As Rory McIlroy, part of his inner circle in West Palm Beach, put it: "He has opened up a lot in the last few years. Previously, he didn't take the camaraderie, or being one of the guys, as seriously as he does now. He sees the bigger picture a little more than he used to."

After 23 years spent cultivating the persona of a myopic android, Woods finally feels ready to let the world in. Just this week, there have been further signs of this shift.

Always a reluctant interviewee, Woods called in to Fred Couples' radio show, discussing everything from his views on the World Series to the fact that the poignant greenside scenes at Augusta — where daughter Sam and son Charlie embraced him in the wake of his fifth Masters triumph — almost did not materialise.

"It probably wouldn't have happened if Sam had reached the final of her state soccer tournament," he said.

Belatedly we are glimpsing a different side to his nature. For too long, there has been an image of Woods as a surly misanthrope, whose reaction to the presence of Ian Poulter on his private jet was to text his coach: "Why has this d— mooched a ride on my plane?"


And yet lately, tales of his aloofness are counterbalanced by those of his generosity. Woods, while caricatured as a paltry tipper, has quietly devoted much effort to his foundation, which plays a significant role in empowering minority students in southern California. He is also reported to have assisted one foreign-born golfer in obtaining a green card.

It is a stunning about-turn and before the year is out, we will see another incarnation of Woods, as he morphs into the elder statesman by captaining the United States side in next month's Presidents Cup at Royal Melbourne.

It promises to be a fascinating dynamic, as Woods, whose dismal Ryder Cup suggests an indifference to team competition, seeks to reimagine himself as a leader of men.

Perhaps the greatest relief for Team US is that Woods at last seems happy and unburdened. For when he prospers, so inescapably does golf itself.