When the American squad was ready to battle against an International squad last September for the President’s Cup at Liberty National Golf Club in Jersey City, NJ, the figure of Tiger Woods was present - in body. Not as a player, but as an assistant captain. The future of Woods at that time went beyond whether Tiger was coming back as a competitor to if he was going to be able to do so. Keep in mind, this is the same person who was only given permission by his doctors to practise chips and putts in August 2017.
His own words stated that there might be a scenario in which he would never return to competitive golf. Woods emphasised how his quality of life - the wherewithal to play with his two children - was more important than anything else.
In December of 2017 Woods was ranked 1,173 in the world. He had not won a major event since ‘08 at the US Open at Torrey Pines. His last PGA TOUR triumph came in ‘13 at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone. This is the same person who was arrested for a DUI - driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in 2017 - and upon deeper review the toxicology reports indicated Woods “had five different drugs in this system.” Woods also underwent a spinal fusion surgery in 2017 - his fourth major surgery. The greater concern which Woods articulated was being able to walk and function normally - not playing world championship golf again.
Fast forward the 2018 calendar to present times and the Woods comeback is clearly going full speed ahead. Hard to imagine, but if someone had said Tiger Woods would be competing in The Tour Championship this year and Jordan Spieth would not - the line for takers for that bet would have been beyond imagination - but that has happened.
Few could even remotely contemplate Woods would be a member of the USA Ryder Cup team and that his play nearly resulted in a major championship title - both at The Open Championship at Carnoustie, where he held the outright lead after the 10th hole during the final round, and at the PGA Championship at Bellerive, where he finished outright second and concluded play with a personal best major championship final round 64.
Woods is now ranked 21st in the world and 20th in the FedEx Cup Playoffs standings. More importantly, the two biggest concerns - his ability to control his driver and the wherewithal to make putts when needed - are trending in the right direction. Woods also performed better as the FedEx Cup Playoffs went through the period of three consecutive events. At the final event - the BMW Championship - Tiger was second only to Rory McIlroy in proximity to the hole. Woods admitted that the game has changed because of improvement to clubs and balls, but that the biggest adjustment for him was being able swing effectively and consistently with a body that has endured much over the last few years.
During the telecast from the BMW event, NBC-Sports golf analyst Johnny Miller stated the 2018 Tiger Woods faces an even deeper roster of top tier golfers than when he played in his heyday over 10 years ago. The competition is now especially keen at the very top - and even those who are just outside have made moves. Who would have envisioned 24-year-old Bryson DeChambeau winning three times - with two wins coming in the FedEx Cup Playoffs?
Woods will turn 43 at the end of this year. Golfers have certainly won tournaments on the PGA TOUR and elsewhere - including major championships. But the possibility of Woods overtaking the Nicklaus record of 18 majors appears highly unlikely. Can Woods win again - even a major? The feeling from those he competes against is positive, but given the injuries that Woods has overcome one can never make any long-term predictions on what will shake out. Winning a professional event is one thing - majors are on a much higher level. No one knows that better than Woods himself.
It is hard to fathom why Woods would agree to a November one-on-one match-up with Phil Mickelson at Shadow Creek Golf Club in Las Vegas. The two have had a curious relationship - being bitter rivals early on, and now showing signs of actual friendship. Will the public be interested in this event? Hard to see how Woods gains anything from it.
Woods realises that the final chapter of his golf career is in motion now. The willpower to compete is certainly there, and the results have certainly shown a golfer still able to play at the highest of levels. The Ryder Cup in Paris will provide a clear opportunity for Woods to redeem himself from his hard to figure mediocre record - 13-17-3 - in the event. Should Woods be a catalyst in having the USA win for the first time since 1993 on European soil, the momentum for even greater achievements in ‘19 will be set in motion.
The golfer who won 14 majors by age 32 is no longer present. Woods now must face an even more gruelling competitive scene. The intimidation he brought forward from years past is more memory than reality. Today’s younger players want to demonstrate the capacity to take down Tiger during the biggest events. Underestimating Woods has been something many have done. The future is never certain with anything in golf, but the Tiger of today has shown real tenacity. The claws are sharp and the eye of the Tiger is once again keen to the competitive scene.
Tiger has stoked the public and media’s appetite for the next chapter to happen. Given the journey he has faced, the road from Liberty National a year ago to where he is now is nothing short of brilliant.
No one in the sport moves the needle like he does. The ending chapters, which seemed etched in stone with his golf obituary, are now blank and await to be filled.
We shall soon see.