By Tyler Olson
Tiger Woods is going to play in a competitive golf tournament on Thursday for the first time in 470 days. 470 days ago, there were still seventeen people running in the Republican presidential primary. The Chicago Cubs were still cursed. “Closer” by the Chainsmokers didn’t exist to be obsessed over by every girl in her teens and early twenties. The Rams were still in St. Louis. Basically, it’s been a very long time since Tiger Woods has played golf. So, what should we expect this weekend when he faces some of the best golfers in the world in his own tournament?
Tiger Woods has a long and storied history of getting hurt. He’s come back from various surgeries and ailments way too soon in the past, only to re-aggravate those injuries. Don’t expect that this time. Woods seems to have learned his lesson and is not pushing his aging body any further than it can go. Just remember: People were calling for him to potentially come back for the Masters or US Open during this previous season, yet he resisted the temptation and stayed home. Then, when he was scheduled to play in the Safeway Open this October, he pulled out at the last second, saying he thought he, “…wasn’t ready to compete against the best golfers in the world.” Assuming he was being honest in this statement, Woods was sufficiently healthy to compete. He just didn’t believe his game was sharp enough to be playing on the PGA Tour. So, theoretically, he’s been in solid physical shape for some time now. Of course, there’s always the chance his glutes stop firing on the back nine on Friday, but the smart money right now is that Woods will make it through all four rounds without problem.
Tiger Woods told the USA Today that he can hit “…all the shots now, on call.” When Tiger Woods says that he can hit “all the shots” that means something. That means he is confident that no matter what the situation, he has a shot that can fit the circumstances, like the Tiger of yesteryear. There are lots of players on Tour who can’t even hit “all the shots, on call.” Martin Kaymer is a perfect example of this. Back in 2011, when he was the top ranked player in the world, he physically could not hit a draw.
Videos of Woods’ swing surfaced online over the past few days, and it looks pretty good, even according to his former coach, Hank Haney, who said he has a great shot at a win or a top five finish. Woods should be just fine in his ball striking, and one can only assume he’s been working just as hard on his short game.
It almost feels silly to question Tiger Woods’ mental game. He’s one of the most clutch golfers in history and has always had an air of intimidation about him. But we have justification to. First off, Woods had a nasty case of the chipping yips really not too long ago, and it’s possible that the nerves of not playing for so long could get to Woods. Additionally, he’s no longer feared by other players. In his peak, anyone, from Serio Garcia to Phil Mickelson to the newest tour rookie would understand they’d be in for a tough fight when playing against Woods. Now, as the 898th ranked player in the world, he won’t project the same authority, especially with the elite field Woods assembled for the Hero World Challenge. Woods is paired with Patrick Reed for rounds one and two. Reed wouldn’t be intimidated if he were playing one on one against LeBron James, so he won’t care that he’s playing with a guy who was a lowly Ryder Cup vice-captain when he was out there winning matches.
Tiger Woods is Tiger Woods. He seems to have learned from the mistakes of the past and let his body heal properly from his previous injuries. Without that worry hanging over him, expect at the very least a respectable performance from him this week. It was reported that Woods shot a 63 at Seminole the other day, and if that is true, there’s no reason to expect him to come out and lay an egg. But it is his first time out, so let’s moderate our expectations something short of a win. Woods will probably not be in real contention at any time this week, and will finish outside of the top five, but he should be able to keep it in the top half of the eighteen-man field. Look for someone like Dustin Johnson or Jason Day to run away with it.