So we were teased a few weeks back that he was going to come back, and then we waited. It feels like we have been waiting for an entire PGA season, two really when you consider he shut it down 15 months ago. Well now the wait is over and today, Tiger Woods will play in a competitive (use that term loosely, but more on that later) tournament for the first time since shutting it down and having another back surgery.
This is it as far as I am concerned. This has to be Tiger’s last chance at a comeback because, well you don’t make comebacks at 41 very often. So what do we expect of this? I am going to present realistic expectations here. I would love to tell you that he is going to come out and shoot five under tomorrow on his way to having us all change our channels from football to golf on Sunday, but is that realistic? Probably not. Realistically I want to see Tiger do the following three things: drive the ball consistently, hit strong, creative iron shots, and putt 80 percent of the way he used to putt. If he can do those three things then his score won’t matter.
When I say drive the ball consistently I am not talking about 300-yard bombs down the middle of the fairway, those days have come and gone. I want to see Tiger hit nine or ten of 14 fairways during the first round. Three of his fairway misses need to be in fairway bunkers or the rough (it’s rare you don’t have a few roll off the fairway, or just miss) and his one or two misses need to at least be shots that aren’t like his past misses where the threesome four holes away is ducking and covering. He was way off the last time we saw him and that can’t happen. I am actually okay if Tiger hits a 3-wood off of every tee if it is going to give him a chance at par.
Strong iron shots have always been where Tiger made his money. Do you remember this shot at the 2012 US Open?
Probably not but it was one of his better ones since his last major victory in 2008. That was vintage Tiger. Back in 2000-2001 when he put on one of the best years of golf we have ever seen, nobody hit irons better than Tiger. Again, I am not expecting him to be 2000 Tiger but 65 percent of that Tiger is better than many on the tour. He needs to be back to that. It may require him hitting a club or two more now so he doesn’t have to swing as violently as we remember but where we really loved Tiger was his creativity. That video clip is just a small example of the creativity that Tiger had when he was playing his best. He had the confidence to attempt the shot and then the skill to pull it off. We have not seen that from Tiger in quite some time. If we can get some of that this weekend we will all be wanting more and that bodes well for Tiger and golf fans around the world.
Tiger’s putting was always what separated him from others. There have been plenty of golfers who have come post Tiger who can drive the ball 300+ yards with consistency and plenty of golfers who hit irons flush but nobody has been able to match Tiger’s putting from his prime. Jordan Spieth has come close and might be the closest we have seen. This clip from the 2001 Player’s Championship shows not only his ability to read greens but also to accurately predict the speed. Even the announcers are in shock as he takes the ball to the right and drains it.
Any golfer, whether they are a weekend warrior, a club pro, or a PGA professional will tell you that a long absence from the game will impact your ability to read greens and judge speed. This is where I feel Tiger will have the hardest time this weekend. But…if he has the ability to read the greens and speed then we have hope of what is to come.
So back to what I realistically expect this weekend. Well let’s be honest here. The field is strong: Fowler, Stenson, DJ, Spieth, Rose, Bubba, just to name a few. Tiger is not entering your local scramble this weekend but at the same time there is no cut and only 18 golfers playing. Where does Tiger finish and what is good for him? In a field of 18 of the world’s best golfers and coming off of a 15 month layoff I see Tiger finishing in 16th place. He will have one day where he shoots 4 under and gets the world excited to see what’s next. This one day will be surrounded by a day or two at par and one day over. That is a realistic expectation for now but again pay attention to the driving, iron play, and putting. That’s what we all need to pay attention to because that will tell us what Tiger’s future — if he has one — holds for him and the rest of us.