Answering questions about Tiger’s Hero comeback
Well, here we are again.
In a few days, Tiger Woods will (hopefully) make his most recent long awaited comeback at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. The tournament is a small 18-man field that benefits Tiger’s foundation and features some of the best players in the world, along with a good sized purse of $3.5 million and OWGR points up for grabs. It’ll be the first time that anyone has seen Tiger on the course in a competitive tournament in sixteen months, as he last teed it up at the 2015 Wyndham where he finished tied for tenth.
He begins his latest comeback attempt on Thursday, paired with Patrick Reed with a tee time of 12:00 PM ET. Below, I’ve answered some questions on his return and what we should expect this week and beyond.
Didn’t we do this a few weeks ago? Is he actually going to show up?
Based on some of the quotes that he’s given the golf media over the past few days, I’m about 99% sure that he’s going to show up and play this week. If you take him at his word, he just wasn’t ready to play the Safeway and while pulling out of the event on the Monday of tournament week after committing on the previous Friday was definitely not the best way to handle the situation, I just can’t see him doing that again at a tournament that benefits his foundation. Remember that when he announced his “comeback schedule”, he did it with sentences like “hopes to play”, “but I still have work to do” and “whether I can play depends…”.
He hasn’t said anything like that over the past few days, so I think it’s pretty safe to assume that he’s going to tee it up on Thursday morning.
Is he healthy?
As I’ve said before: you’ll be shocked to hear this, but I’m not a doctor. All we can do at this point is take him at his word, and he says that he’s healthy and ready to go. Combine that with the fact that he’s apparently looked good on the range over the past few days, and everything points to the fact that he’s in good health. That’s not to say though that he can’t re-injure himself again, and with his history, I think it’s fair to say that is a decent possibility but as it stands right now, he looks as healthy as he can be.
I honestly believe that he did the right thing by listening to his doctors and waiting this long to come back and play
So, assuming he plays, how should we expect him to perform?
Tiger has made a career of proving people wrong and doing what many assumed was absolutely impossible, but expecting anything this week that resembles the guy we saw in 2000 or even 2013 is crazy. It’s up to you if you want to believe the dubious reports of him shooting 63’s at places like Seminole and Medalist while the cameras aren’t on and he’s not in a competitive setting, but even if those are true, he’s entering a completely different arena this week. For as much as I believe that the injuries are the main reason why he hasn’t been competitive in a few years, there’s also a large part of me that believes he’s suffered mentally as well. For whatever reason, the guy who seems to stripe it on the range or in practice rounds doesn’t show up to the first tee on Thursday and at least to me, that seems like a mental thing more than anything. As it relates to this week though, there are a lot of different layers to examine here.
- The Layoff: It’s been sixteen months since he played a competitive round. Expecting any player to play well after that long of a break is probably a bad idea, much less one that didn’t exactly light it up when he was last on the course. There’s going to be rust; it’s just a matter of how much.
- The Equipment: With Nike dropping out of the equipment business, Tiger’s putting all kinds of new stuff in the bag this week. He’s sticking with the Nike irons, but TaylorMade woods, a Bridgestone ball and the return of the Scotty Cameron putter mean that on top of trying to get healthy, Tiger’s working with a lot of new stuff and that’s going to take some time.
- The Course: Last year, Bubba Watson won the event at -25 and only four of the seventy-two rounds played ended up over par, with the 75 posted by Hideki Matsuyama being the highest number of the week. Basically, Albany isn’t the toughest course out there, so it should be a decent enough landing spot for Tiger to start his comeback but it also means the other players should feast.
- The Field: In terms of how he finishes, it’s hard to see him not finishing in last place considering the three factors above and the fact that the field is excellent. When you look at the full field, can you honestly tell me that you expect someone to finish behind Tiger?
You should expect him to finish last, but the good news is that even that would be useful for Tiger’s current place in the game.
If you’re saying that we shouldn’t expect much, what should we consider a good week?
For me, a good week out of Tiger means that he finished all four rounds and didn’t have any noticeable signs of injury. If he can do that and avoid shooting a disastrously high number, I think it should be looked at as a success. That might mean that he ends up finishing about thirty shots behind the eventual winner, but I don’t think that honestly matters this week. The important things for this week are to stay healthy and play against some of the best in the world for four days. That’s it.
What should we take away from the week, if anything?
To be honest, probably absolutely nothing. Unless he goes out there and wins the tournament (he won’t) or he fires four consecutive 85’s (I hope he won’t), we really shouldn’t take anything away from this week. You’re going to see good shots and bad shots, piped drives and wayward balls with generous amounts of #TourSauce, and hopefully no sign of chipping problems around the greens. We’re going to see the full gamut this week, and you shouldn’t overreact either way.
What does this mean for the PGA Tour and golf in general?
I’ve always maintained that if Tiger could get himself healthy, he would win tournaments again and I still believe that. I’d still like to think that there’s too much talent and knowledge there for him to never win again if he can consistently stay on the course. That might be a long shot but if it happens, I’m not going to be one of those people who ends up being surprised.
The good news is that even if that doesn’t happen, golf will be just fine. For years, we worried about what the post-Tiger/Phil landscape would look like and now that it’s here, it’s pretty great. The talent at the top of the game is fantastic, and they’re super fun to watch too. None of them will likely ever get to the level that Tiger got to in the late 90’s/early 2000’s, but there’s so many good players now that, at least to me, it’s actually better than it was when Tiger was at the top. If Tiger can get back to playing at a level where he’s challenging those guys, that would be great but if it doesn’t happen, that’s fine too.
Golf Channel’s live coverage of the Hero World Challenge begins on Thursday at 1:00 PM ET.