I hold a high standard for Tiger, and I am going to blame it on my dad. My father was the one who adorned my childhood bedroom with a picture of Woods stroking a 3-wood on 18 at Pebble Beach before I even knew the difference between a birdie and a caddie. Maybe Tiger spoiled me too much when I was younger; the guy was always in a place to win. He went 142 consecutive PGA tour events without missing a cut from 1998-2005, by far the most in history. I found a lot of comfort in knowing that I had somebody to root for every Sunday, and when I see Tiger lace it up this Thursday for the first time in over 400 days, I expect him to surprise some people.
Before I start comparing Tiger’s return to that moment Rudy got carried off by his teammates at Notre Dame, let’s start with what could realistically go wrong this weekend. Woods could potentially walk up to the first tee, open up with a beautiful drive down the line, and start keeling over in discomfort. I am not proud to say this but I would literally start tearing up if that happened. We have to be sensible though; he is 40 now. There’s nothing he can do to completely stop the physical breakdown of his body over time. I know that he has taken extreme caution in his recovery and claims to have built his body enough to prevent injury, but there is a reason many athletes are not able to keep playing beyond their 30s. It is most likely my paranoia telling me that something could go wrong, but nobody can be sure how he and his back will react to the constant severe twisting involved in swinging a golf club.
Next up would be if he trotted out there and shot an unimpressive 80. I have always said that I believe Tiger will win another major before retiring, but if he cannot deliver this weekend and put up a respectable score after taking all this time off, my confidence in his ability might slim down. Tiger’s claim to fame used to be his incredible consistency from one tournament to the next, so if he falls out of line and starts posting double bogeys, I am going to start worrying.
Now here’s what I really think is going to happen. As great as it is to wish that he could go out there alongside some of the best in the world and treat them as if they are the Titanic to his iceberg, I do not think he will be quite as sensational as he could be. I expect Tiger Woods to show off, maybe try some of his old shots that display his grit and audacity, perhaps stinging a 3-iron with that gorgeous fade around the gallery, and finish in contention for the win. I do not think he is capable of excelling in front of a raucous crowd quite yet, mostly because it has been almost a year and a half since he last participated in a professional tournament. Plus, let’s not forget that he not only reshaped his swing since last competing, but he is also going through a recent brand transition, giving him a different feel from the all-Nike equipment he employed during his heyday. I am optimistic and hopeful that his game can reach a level it once rose to, but do not neglect the rest of the field, which took Tiger’s time away from the game to improve and attempt to rid golf of the one-man show that is Tiger Woods.
I am ecstatic to see Tiger compete again, and will be cheering him on until his last putt. His return is good for the sport as a whole, and this Hero World Challenge event will end up answering many questions about his career moving forward.