Photo via Christian Petersen / Getty Images
Tiger completed his first tournament in over 15 months and it came with many ups and downs. Coming into the tournament, no one expected him to win, but with his -4 (through 8 holes) start on Thursday, people started thinking that was possible for him to win. Expectations (my own included) skyrocketed. But we have to remember that those expectations are absurd. He is coming off a 15-month layover, 3 back surgeries, and he has a 40-year-old body. Being able to maintain consistent play for 72 holes is almost impossible. Whatever we saw out there we have to take with a grain of salt.
First, I’ll start with the negatives of Tiger’s round because I think there were much fewer negatives than there were positives. The big negative was Tiger’s inconsistent tee shots. For years he has had issues with controlling his tee shots, and it was no different this week. No matter if he was hitting with his 3-wood or his driver, his shot was erratic. In the old days, Tiger was so dominant in every other aspect of his game that he was able to overcome hitting his tee shots all over the course. However, he will not be able to be that dominant at the age of 40 to make up for the erratic play off the tee. Secondly, his only other negative was his inconsistent play overall. This probably stems from his inaccurate drives making him have to scramble often and early, which is no recipe for success after a long layoff. His primary negative was inconsistency. He is leading the field in birdies (at the moment depending on what Matsuyama does the rest of today) with 24 birdies, but he finished the tournament only 4 under par, which shows that he was +20 on all the other holes. It shows what is still left in Tiger, but there is still a lot of work left to do.
The positives are many. The most important was Tiger’s ability to score. He had 24 birdies throughout the 4 days, and as I mentioned above, it leads the field. Scoring is the most important thing in golf, and he was able to do it at an elite level with 15 months off. Just think about that for a second. He led the field and hadn’t played in 15 months. Absolutely incredible. His short game looked very good (the most important aspect of golf), which is what people worry about the most when they comeback from a long layoff. His putting has some work to do. He still had some long birdie putts and some long par saves, but overall consistency is needed. Tiger has also adjusted his swing in his 15 months layoff. He has a much calmer swing and it doesn’t rely on rotating with extreme force on his left knee. This is a good sign because he realized he couldn’t have the same swing he had when he was in his 20’s and 30’s for two reasons. One, he doesn’t have the body to swing at the pace and power necessary for the swing to work. Secondly, his body will deteriorate in a matter of months if he kept swinging like he did. The swing should provide him with more accuracy and help him off the tee. If he can consistently hit fairways, then he will easily become the number one player in the world again. Lastly, most of Tiger’s mistakes came from fatigue and from the long layover. He would go on strings of birdies, but just couldn’t stop himself from falling down the leaderboard. He strung together bogeys, which is almost never the case for Tiger. Once he gets his footing under him and starts playing more, those strings of doubles and bogeys will become pars and only bogeys. He just didn’t have the mental sharpness to will himself to pars and bogeys when he found himself in tough situations. His “Tiger” attitude will come back, helping him limit the bogeys. Therefore, his fire power (24 birdies) will be able to shine through once he eliminates the bad holes, which will lead to future tournament wins.
I said in my last article to never doubt Tiger Woods. If anyone can do anything it is him. He talked about how tough his recovery was in his post-round interview today. He discussed how there were days he wanted to stop and couldn’t move, but he powered through it. It was mentioned that he had to spend 3 hours doing daily rehab just so he was able to play the next day. He is as motivated as any person in sports, and the results are going to show. This tournament showed me that Tiger Woods is going to be an elite golfer and will make it back to being number 1 in the world. Hopefully, his return comes with a major win, but there is no guarantee on that front. The 2013 Tiger Woods we saw will be back (that Tiger didn’t win a major, but was the #1 golfer in the world). Everyone stay tuned and hopefully we can see him hoist another major trophy in the coming years.