Tiger Woods made an impressive return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, finishing tied for 9th in the 18 man field.
The tournament, ultimately won by fellow American Rickie Fowler after a stunning final round of 61, was always likely to be overshadowed by the return of arguably the sports greatest champion. At the age of 41, his capacity to draw large crowds and be the focus of media attention is unparalleled.
The fourteen time major champion certainly has reason to feel encouraged, four rounds completed pain free, three of which were in the sixties and a swing which looks measured and sustainable. There was an unsurprising rustiness which prevented Woods from mounting a sustained challenge. However, in equal measure there were certain shots that evoked memories of the Tiger of old. During the final round, a sublime tee shot on the drivable par-four 7th set up an excellent eagle, whilst the level of ball striking demonstrated in a two iron that travelled over 250 yards into the par-five 3rd was nothing short of supreme. Woods can feel particularly optimistic with regards to his driving and wedge play which excelled throughout the week.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 7, 2017
Such is the desire within the golfing world to see Woods once again competing with those at the top of the sport – such as Spieth, Johnson and McIlroy – that there is tendency to go overboard. The course in the Bahamas was not particularly challenging and there is undoubtedly a huge gulf between competing in this more relaxed environment as opposed to the cut and thrust nature of the PGA Tour.
It is worth nothing that we have been here before, as Tiger competed in this event just twelve months ago. His performance then was likewise encouraging, yet this was quickly undermined as Woods pursued too ambitious a schedule. This was brutally exposed at both Torrey Pines and Dubai and after these events there were genuine concerns that we might never again see Woods compete on the golf course.
The fact that Woods recognised this himself in an interview before the President’s Cup, makes his return just a few months later seem all the more remarkable.
Woods must now plan a limited schedule designed to fit around golfs 4 majors. It is in these tournaments that Tiger produced so many of his greatest moments, the chip on the 16th at Augusta in 2005 and the final putt on the 18th green at the 2008 US open to force a play-off with Rocco Mediate, to name but a few.
Tiger will never be able to replicate his total dominance of the sport, such was the unprecedented nature of this dominance that the fall was always likely to be very sharp. Past personal issues aside, we should herald Woods for what he has given to the game of golf and cherish what he still has to offer before it may be too late to do so.
By Thomas Lambton