TIGER’S TIME …
PAST OR PRESENT?
New York, NY. Tiger Woods makes his return to competition this week with the Hero World Challenge event in the Bahamas. The 18-man field features a no-cut format and after having gone through no less than four major surgeries in the last three years it will be most interesting to see how the 14-time major winner fares.
The last competitive appearance for Woods came early in ’17 when he carded a first round 77 before pulling out of the Dubai Desert Classic. The week prior Woods played in the Farmer’s Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and failed to make the cut at a venue where some of his greatest wins have happened.
The 41-year-old former world number one player turns 42 in December and there’s plenty of interest in how Woods will handle his return inside the ropes as a competitor.
Woods played in the same event in ’16 and finished 15th. The rust was apparent from his game but Tiger also showed flashes of his former self at times too.
Amazingly, as the calendar goes from ’17 to ’18 it will mark nearly 10 years since Woods won his last major championship at the ’08 US Open. His last PGA Tour win came in August ’13 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational. Since 2013 he has played only 19 times and his last 72-hole finish in a major came at the ’15 Masters where he finished tied for 17th. In the last three majors that he did play — also in ’15 — Woods missed the cut in all three events.
Tiger served as an Assistant Captain under Steve Stricker during the successful President’s Cup Matches and his feelings about returning were uncertain then. Woods even stated he could see a scenario where he might never return to competition. Clearly, things have changed considerably since those comments in Jersey City this past September.
What do watch for:
* How will Tiger fare physically and mentally?
As much as the phyiscal questions will be focused upon, how Tiger handles the mental dimensions of competition again will be of prime concern too. No matter how well Woods has hit the golf ball in practice sessions the nature of competition and being able to produce quaity shots time after time will test wherewithal to mentally fight through tough moments when they arise. Is Woods up to incessant questions regarding his game and does he see a path where a return to being a factor in competitive golf is worth the time and effort he will need to demonstrate.
* Has Tiger tamed his wayward driver?
For several years Woods has been unable to hit consistently with his driver. In critical moments he has been unable to avoid the “two-way” miss in which there is equal probability his misses would go in either direction. Failure to correct this will only mean Tiger needing to scramble time after time in order to score well. Competition at the world class level means being able to consistently get into position for birdies. Missing to either side and fighting simply to make pars will not work for him against elite players.
* Does Woods have command over his short game and putter?
During the height of his successes Woods excelled in getting out of difficult circumstances with a superlative short game and an uncanny putting stroke. In the last number of years when Tiger has actually entered the competitive arena these two assets were quickly seen as liabilities. Improvement is essential because at any given high level competition there will be several players at peak form for scoring opportunities.
* Does Woods have the passion to stay the course?
In his prime years no golfer wanted victory more than Woods. He not only subdued competition — he simply crushed them. Now the shoe may be on the other foot as other younger players see Tiger as being ripe for the taking.
* Is that will to victory still burning within him?
The Bahamas event will show some clear signs but the bigger issue is will Tiger be able to sustain that desire over a prolonger period of time. The recent track record has not been encouraging. Tiger can make a good beginning in the Bahamas to change that conversation from a negative into a positive and to show that his golf days do indeed have a future and not just a past.