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Tiger-Woods

Christmas came early for the game of golf last
week, with Tiger Woods’ successful return in the
Bahamas the perfect present for anyone who
considers themselves a fan of the sport.

Tellingly, the physical challenge of completing
four competitive rounds for the first time in a
year was not the issue for the former world
number one. It was all about the standard of his
game after a 301-day absence from competition.

And while his performance was not perfect, to
finish the Hero Challenge eight under par in a
share of ninth place was highly encouraging.

Yes, this was a fun, season-ending shootout with
a field limited to only 18 competitors, but Woods
still beat PGA Tour player of the year Justin
Thomas, world number one Dustin Johnson and
the US Open champion Brooks Koepka.

Woods fired rounds of 69, 68, 75 and 68 and had
two eagles, 17 birdies and only one double
bogey. Albany is a resort course and there are
far tougher golfing tests but realistically Woods
could not have asked for more from his return.

“Some of the shots he hit, I just thought that’s
vintage Tiger,” European Ryder Cup star Chris
Wood told BBC Sport.

“You can see the speed in the swing and that’s
the biggest thing. In the final round he hit a two
iron over the back of the green, pitching it 250
yards. He’s doing something right there isn’t he?”
Woods’ putting stroke also looked very assured
and the only apparent weaknesses occurred with
some touch shots around the greens that went
awry.

“Those are the sort of things, when you come
back after a break, your golfing brain takes a
couple of rounds to get back into it,” Wood
pointed out.

“I thought there were so many positives for him
last week and I think he’d be over the moon with
that performance.”

And the 2016 winner of the PGA Championship
is thrilled that golf’s biggest personality is back
in the game. Wood says it was his near
namesake who inspired him to take up the sport.

“I grew up with him, he won his first Masters
when I was 10 years old,” Wood said.

“I think for anybody of my generation, there’s
been a void in the last two, three, four years
when Tiger’s not been there. It’s just not been
the same.

“You watch last week and not just me but so
many people on Twitter were making so many
comments and non golfers as well.
“It does so much for the game and it makes you
feel that golf is really something special when
Tiger’s playing. All of a sudden it’s in other news
outlets and people are talking about it and it
really, really makes you want to watch.”

Woods commands such attention he often
overshadows other players in the field, but Wood
has no time for those who see this as a problem.

“I think that’s madness,” said the 30-year-old
Bristolian. “I find it amazing that people can
comment like that. How can you not be a fan of
Tiger Woods in 2000 or 2005? Whenever he was
playing his best golf.

“Things have happened in his life that not
everyone is going to agree with, but as a golfer
you cannot hold anything against him, he’s just
been incredible for the game.

“Most players will say it, we are in tournaments
for prize funds based on interest in the game
and most of it was down to Tiger Woods.”

Now Woods is preparing to work out which
tournaments to enter next year based around the
major championships. He is looking to pace
himself and seems to be processing a less
ambitious schedule than the one he set out this
time last year.

His aim then was to play three weeks in a row at
the start of this year, beginning at Torrey Pines.

There he missed the cut before withdrawing
after only one round in Dubai the following week
with his season in ruins.

A more cautious approach this time makes
sense. He will turn 42 before we next see him
back in action and he was still using
precautionary anti-inflammatory tablets in the
Bahamas last week.

Woods has to manage a back that has one fewer
joint due to last April’s disc fusion surgery. That,
inevitably, means stress being referred to other
areas and how they cope is an unknown
quantity.

Nevertheless, he looked fit, healthy, strong and
happy. That’s a potent combination for a golfer
of his immense feats.
It is more than reasonable to expect Woods will
inject huge interest and buzz into the 2018
golfing calendar. “He brings so much more to an
event,” Wood told me.

“Top, top sportsmen in the world, or
sportswomen, they have this aura – like Beckham
did or Ronaldo or Roger Federer. Tiger’s got that
and certainly not in my generation has there
been a golfer with that same sort of superstar
aura.
“He’s just got to walk on to the range and you’ve
got a sense that he is there.”

Wood played in the same group as Woods back
in 2013 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational
when the former world number one collected the
last of his 79 PGA Tour titles to date.

“When I was playing as a junior I’d dream of
playing with Tiger Woods and there I was in the
last group in a World Golf Championship on a
Saturday and it was an awesome experience,”
Wood said.

Now there is the enticing prospect of Woods
competing with the generation of players he
inspired and who currently dominate the game.

“Everyone wants to see Tiger head to head with
Spieth or Thomas or Rory (McIlroy) and players
like that,” Wood added.

“They’ve got everything to gain in that situation
and that just makes it even better for golf.”

Woods still has a long way to go on the
comeback trail. Let’s see how he does against
full fields of elite players on courses set up to
the penal standards of the PGA Tour.

Much more evidence is required before anyone
could reliably predict another era of Tiger
dominance. But the fact that he is palpably up
for the fight is well worth celebrating.

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