HERE we go again. How many times over the past few years has the golf world gone into a frenzy as it waited with bated breath to see what a Tiger Woods comeback delivers?
February 2009. When he returned following an eight-month layoff, having announced two days after winning the US Open at Torrey Pines in California the previous year that he needed to undergo reconstructive anterior cruciate ligament surgery on his left knee.
April 2010. Perhaps the most anticipated comeback in the game’s history, as Tiger played for the first time since crashing his car into a fire hydrant then watching himself being exposed as a womaniser.
June 2014. His return from back surgery after a pinched nerve stopped his season before it had really started and forced him to miss the Masters for the first time since 1994.
On each and every occasion, the focus on Woods was incredible. Every shot, sometimes even every step, being scrutinised to the nth degree. Every word weighed up like never before by his adoring American media.
They like Rory McIlroy. They know he is the game’s future along with the likes of Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth. But Woods is still their biggest meal ticket and that’s been shown once again as he makes his latest comeback today. It’s in the Hero World Challenge, his own event, which has moved this year to Isleworth in Orlando after a lengthy spell in California.
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It’s his first appearance since the soon-to-be 39-year-old was hirpling about like someone double his age in the US PGA Championship at Valhalla in Kentucky. He shouldn’t have been there, having suffered a recurrence of the aforementioned back injury the previous week. But sheer stubbornness got the better of him.
Woods hasn’t struck a ball competitively since 8 August. In what is now close to four months, he’s given himself a proper chance to recuperate. He’s also changed coaches, with Sean Foley having been replaced by Chris Como just last week.
Como, we are told, is more into biomechanics than being a traditional swing guru. By the looks of things, his job is to help find a way that enables the 14-times major winner to swing powerfully yet without the risk of further injury.
“It’s new, but it’s old,” said Woods of the technique we saw for the first time this week in a Vine video released by the Tiger Woods Foundation that has been analysed to death already.
We’ll find out today how it functions where it matters most, though what can four rounds in one of the “silly season” events actually tell us about what lies ahead for Woods next year and beyond?
First and foremost, it would be a positive sign to see him looking healthy again and, by all accounts, that appears to be the case. He’s shed a few pounds, though it certainly wasn’t due to being overweight that he’s suffered any of his injuries.
A half-decent display against the likes of Fowler, Spieth, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson and Graeme McDowell would do for starters, because it’s unreasonable, even for Woods, to expect instant success on this occasion.
From world No 1 in May, he is now 24th. No surprise when you consider that, in 2014, Woods has completed only three 72-hole tournaments and acquired 6.57 world ranking points. Helped by two major wins and a WGC success, McIlroy has amassed 565.
Can Tiger make up the yawning gap between the pair? For starters, it will take McIlroy to go off the boil and that may well happen if he’s unsettled by events in a Dublin court early next year over his dispute with a former management company.
If not, however, then Tiger will have a real fight on his hands even to get in a position where he can apply the sort of pressure on McIlroy that once – and let’s bear in mind that it’s now probably six years ago when this was the case – made his main rivals at the time crack in the heat of battle.
The next four days won’t tell us whether Woods can become world No 1 again. Or, for that matter, re-start his bid to topple Jack Nicklaus as the game’s greatest player. We’ll have to wait until next season for those questions to be answered.
This week is about baby steps on the road to recovery and golf as a whole should be hoping that the 2015 campaign involves a fully fit and fully functioning Woods.
Like him or not – and even taking into account the remarkable year McIlroy enjoyed – the game has missed Tiger. Just think how exciting it would be to see him and McIlroy slugging it out down the stretch at St Andrews for the Claret Jug in next year’s Open Championship. That prospect alone should make us all wish that Woods’ latest comeback is the last for a long time.
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