Tiger Woods is back. Not back as in he’s playing golf again on the PGA Tour, back as in the Tiger Woods of old seems to be returning.
At least to some degree.
A couple weekends ago, Tiger Woods finished runner-up to Paul Casey in the Valspar Championship in Florida. The near-win was just Tiger’s fourth start of 2018. In those four weeks, Tiger missed one cut, placed T-23, 12 and now second.
Tiger has noted – and his play reflects this – that he’s been getting progressively better and better. Different parts of his game have been extraordinary each week, but it’s also seemed that, in each tournament, there was one part of his game that was missing, causing those top-25 finishes without a top-10. But Tiger’s weekend at Innisbrook was different.
The Valspar Championship would bring about Tiger’s best showing of driving accuracy thus far in 2018, despite that number still being below 60 percent. Tiger hit 2-3 of Greens-in-Regulation, which tied his best for the year with his performance at the Honda Classic, where Tiger finished solo-12. Another boost for Tiger came on par-fives.
At both Honda and the Genesis Open (MC), Tiger played all par-fives for the week 1-over-par – astonishingly bad for someone ranking in the top-50 on Tour for Driving Distance, let alone that someone being Tiger Woods. At Valspar? He tied his then-season best of 6-under-par on par-fives.
Interestingly enough, however, Tiger was carded more than a half-stroke less in Strokes Gained Putting in his four rounds at Innisbrook when compared to his performance at both Honda and the Farmers Insurance Open, his two top-25 finishes. Tiger’s consistent strength in this return has been his putting, but it seems his most consistent strength might have cost him this tournament.
Tiger went into the final round of the tournament one stroke behind then-leader Corey Connors. He managed an early birdie, but his ride on the birdie train would stop there, as Tiger totaled 32 putts in his final round. A short miss for par early on would set Tiger back, and he wouldn’t find another birdie until the 17th hole. There, Tiger hit his most Tiger-esque shot of the week, a 44-foot, side-breaking putt to put himself one behind clubhouse leader Paul Casey. Unfortunately, Tiger came up short with a putt on the 18th green – a seemingly fitting way to end a day of shortcomings with the putter.
Despite the disappointment of getting so close and having no trophies to show for it, this was an incredibly positive week for the 42-year-old legend. This was the closest he had gotten to winning a golf tournament since the WGC-Bridgestone in August of 2013. More importantly, it shows he still has the ability to win. I know, I know, he didn’t win. But he played four consecutive rounds of golf and posted a score that could have been good enough to do so. Mind you, Paul Casey won on Sunday by carding the fewest putts in a single round over the course of his entire 17-year career.
My favorite part of all this? Watching Tiger Woods have fun contending again. So much of his game right now is the same, or close to the same, as it was before. Except one thing – Tiger smiles during tournaments now. Not that he didn’t before, but he does so much more now. It’s great being able to visually see Tiger’s new sense of appreciation for competing in golf tournaments, undoubtedly from being away from the game for so long.
My second favorite part? Watching Tiger Woods prove the majority of the golf community wrong. So many people thought Tiger Woods would never win again, let alone compete again. After everything Tiger has done in his career – from the incredible shots, the groundbreaking margins of victory, the sheer number of Tour wins – how could you doubt him? I’ll admit, I’ve doubted that he’d ever win another major, but how could I not have hopes of him winning again and capturing win number 80?
The funny thing is that Tiger proved everyone wrong in the most Tiger-fashion possible. He proved he could win again without even winning. If it were anyone but Eldrick “Tiger” Woods, people would have dismissed a T-2 finish as coming up short and not having what it takes. But it is Tiger. And everyone knows that as long as the Man in Sunday Red is stalking around the course, anything could happen.
Tiger Woods is back. Yet questions remain: Will Tiger win again? Will he win another major? Will he stay healthy throughout the remainder of his career? It certainly seems like there’s hope for each of those questions, yet people will have their doubts. If we’ve learned anything from this year and year’s past, it’s to never, ever question the greatest golfer to ever play the game.