It’s been 15 months since Tiger Woods has swung a golf club in competition, but it really feels like longer. Woods hasn’t won a golf tournament since 2013. He’s made just 11 cuts since 2014. Injuries have bogged him down as his body has worn down from age and the rigorous military training he was infatuated with over the last decade.
He’s often joked lately that he isn’t dead, even if people think he is, and if they needed proof, he’s teeing it up on Thursday morning in Hero World Challenge. A tournament that really means nothing. It’s not an official PGA Tour event. It doesn’t count for Fedex Cup Points and is really nothing other than a nice bonus check before the holiday season for some seasoned PGA Tour pros. But Woods has turned it into must-see TV and has turned Nassau, Bahamas, into the center of the golfing world for this week.
Why? Because everyone wants one more live glimpse of greatness from a man who revolutionized and dominated a game like we’ve never really seen before. Fans want to see Woods in contention on Sundays donning his iconic red. They want to see him break Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 majors.
So do his colleagues.
The support for Tiger’s return amongst his competitors has been widespread. Jordan Spieth said earlier this week that he’s turning heads in the clubhouse and on the driving range. Spieth also talked about it being a dream of his, and of many players of the younger generation, to go up against Woods at his best in contention. Zach Johnson orchestrated a joke at the Ryder Cup in a team meeting in which he got players to lift up their shirts to undershirts that read “make Tiger great again.”
His peers want him back. Golf wants him back.
However, fact of the matter is that Woods is just lucky to be here. Just months ago, he could barely get out of bed. There were accounts of him falling down in the back yard and having to sit there until help came. You can hear it in his voice. This is the first time Tiger has not talked about winning a tournament in which he’s competing. In fact, he’s saying quite the opposite: that the real victory is merely that he’s playing again.
Given everything the man has gone through off of the golf course for the last three years, and even beyond that, it would be hard to argue with him.
It’d be wishful thinking at best to think that Woods will return to the form he once was in, and this week his scores really won’t carry much merit good or bad. A couple of respectable rounds in the 70s will give him something to build off of and give us something to discuss.
But his return at least gives a glimmer of hope. He’s only 40. Phil Mickelson is 46 and nearly won the British Open this past year if not for a historic performance for Henrik Stenson, who is also 40. Woods also won five times on tour in 2013. Plenty of guys have contended in major championships in their 40s, and the majors are really all that matters at this point since Woods is in the twilight of his career. There is precedent. But he’s been out of the game so long. Will his body hold up? Can he find that form again?
Only time will tell whether Woods can reclaim just a sliver of the success he once had for so long, but for now, golf fans should just enjoy the return of one golf’s greatest icons. Because win or lose, success or fail, a healthy Tiger Woods is better for the game of golf.