Flood Watch: Tiger impressive in latest return

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Tiger Woods is back, and better than ever. Well, maybe not ever. Best he’s been in a while? Oh yeah, no doubt.

This past weekend, Tiger made his first competitive start in over 300 days at his own tournament, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. The reason for Tiger’s absence? Yet another back surgery, this time a back fusion surgery, which is something of an end-all-be-all type surgery – and it seems to have done the trick.

Tiger on October 30 announced that he would make his return to the PGA Tour. The announcement came just 14 days after being cleared by a physician to return to full, unrestricted golf activity. Tiger has commented multiple times that his most recent back operation gave him “instant relief” and that he hasn’t felt this good in years. This past weekend, he backed up all the hype of a healthy Tiger Woods.

The Hero World challenge is an 18-man event with the field being comprised mostly of the world’s greatest. There’s no cut in the event after the second round, so Tiger was guaranteed four rounds (should he stay in the upright position). What wasn’t guaranteed, however, was how Tiger would perform and if he could remain pain-free.

In the first round, Tiger showed us exactly what he’s capable of. His first round of competitive golf since February ended in a three-under 69. Tiger hit seven of 13 fairways and 12 of 18 greens in regulation on Thursday. Tiger’s last opening round in the 60s was 834 days ago at the 2015 Wyndham Championship. He even carded a 69 while being one-over-par on the par fives while most players were two or three-under-par on those holes. Perhaps the aspect of Tiger’s returning round that was most promising was just how far he was hitting the ball.

Tiger’s playing partner, Justin Thomas, was the eighth-ranked player in driving distance on the PGA Tour in the 2016-2017 season. Tiger was consistently putting the ball past him off the tee. That is some truly special athleticism.

In his post-round interview, Tiger was absolutely elated about his performance. He talked about how he accomplished what he wanted to in his first round back – hitting some good shots and finding his way around the golf course. The best part? He ended the day pain-free.

Tiger’s second round was even better. He opened the second round with a front-nine score of 31, his lowest nine-hole score in an astounding 1,457 days. Three birdies, an eagle and only 11 putts helped make that happen. On that front-nine, one of the most special things in golf took place that hadn’t happened in a very, very long time – Tiger Woods took the lead.

While the lead didn’t last the entire day, his good play did. While his back-nine was a little slower than his front-nine, he recorded seven straight greens-in-regulation, a telling statistic of his tee-to-green prowess. He added a couple more fairways and one more green-in-regulation on the day, both which propelled him to a four-under-par 68 to leave himself at -7 for the tournament.

Day three didn’t fair so well for Tiger, but, then again, it didn’t fair well for anybody in the tournament. The scoring average for the entire field rose three-and-a-half strokes in the third round, rising to 72.9. That scoring average makes Tiger’s third-round 75 seem not so bad after all. It was tough to watch, however, as Tiger started off the round with a few bogies and didn’t make birdie until the 14th hole. Still, no pain, no worries.

Showing up in traditional red and black for the last round, Tiger was ready to finish the tournament strong.

A few holes left Tiger with a score that unfortunately didn’t reflect just how well he played yesterday, including the 10th hole, which he double-bogeyed, then the final two holes, which he bogeyed. Tiger did make six birdies on the day, as well as a front-nine eagle, making the 2017 Hero World Challenge the first event in years in which Tiger carded multiple eagles. Tiger finished the event at eight-under and tied for ninth place, his best finish in almost three years.

Once again, we get to enjoy a world of golf in which Tiger is competing and hunting the ever-elusive records of 18 majors and 82 wins. We get to see a happy Tiger Woods, living, in my opinion, his best life he’s lived thus far. Sure, injuries have set him back in golf, there’s no doubt about it. Will he ever be the same again? No, probably not. But a man who’s been under a microscope his entire life was given an opportunity to be humbled.

From someone who’s seen Tiger Woods play for a long time, it’s easy to see that he cherishes both his time on the golf course and at home. He’s talked a lot about how he looks at spending time with kids differently now. He’s talked about how he appreciates just being physically able to do the things he loves to do, whether it’s golfing or skiing or running or simply going out with friends. Tiger said he now has a deeper appreciation for what he means to so many people. He said the world got pretty small for him when he was hurt, and coming back has opened his eyes to how big the world is and how much of the world is rooting for him.

I couldn’t be more excited about seeing Tiger Woods returning to golf. He’s changed the game to the point where it will never be the same again, all for the better. It seems like we’re beginning a new chapter of Tiger Woods’ career, hopefully a long chapter with some new-found success. Nobody is sure if Tiger will win again, or even if he’ll stay healthy, but it sure seems like both are very likely. One thing that is for sure is that no matter how hurt he is or how long it’s been since he’s competed, Tiger Woods will prove time and time again that he is not someone to be doubted.

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