Tiger’s back, we think. After a year of guessing and speculating we now know the answer, sort of. The big return wasn’t to be at Augusta or Sawgrass or Oakmont or Royal Troon or Baltusrol – but at the Hero World Challenge.
He might not have played since last August, he might not have won since August 2013, his last Major victory came in 2008 and he is currently 898th on the world rankings but he’s Tiger and this is what we do with Tiger.
In the interim since he last played there might have been multiple back surgeries, he might have turned 40 and he might have given a bleak assessment of his future less than a year ago – ‘pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy’ but the golfing world still expects.
So what can we truly hope for as the next chapter of TW gets going?
1) A better dress sense off the course
This is one of the genuinely great mysteries. How can anyone so well off, so toned, so athletic and so over-managed be so terribly dressed in his life away from the course? Be it a film premier or ball game Tiger constantly gets it wrong. Yes, he’s American so the likelihood is he will be badly dressed but, while his ‘mom jeans’ are borderline horrific, he manages to even outdo this with his choice of shirts. See Exhibit A below.
You appreciate the fact that he can’t go shopping at ‘the mall’ like anyone else but you might hope that he could get himself online or even splash out on a personal shopper.
2) Red still his Sunday best
Once upon a time Luke Donald joined Tiger on the tee at the 2006 PGA Championship at Medinah dressed in, horror of horrors, a red shirt. What was he thinking?
Red is Tiger’s colour, he had worn it since his amateur days – “I wear red on Sundays because my mom thinks that that’s my power colour, and you know you should always listen to your mom.”
Donald should have listened to his ‘mom’ who would have told him to slip a white polo on in its place.
“Obviously Saturday night I knew I was playing with Tiger. I think if I changed my outfit, it was almost like giving in to him already on the 1st hole. It (wearing red) was nothing against Tiger. I wasn’t trying to make a statement or anything. I thought if I changed it, I’d have already lost.”
Donald shot 74, Woods 68 for his 12th Major.
In 2015 Tiger didn’t get to wear his famous red shirt in five of his 11 starts after missing the cut. But don’t expect his scripting to change any time soon.
3) ‘It is what it is..’
“I’m just having a hard time finding the bottom. Because of my old pattern, I was so steep on it, that I have a new grind on my wedge and sometimes it’s hard to trust. This is a similar grind I used to use back in the early 2000s, but it’s a different grind. Some of my shots were into the green with tight pins, and either I’ll flop it or bump it, one of the two. I chose to bump it.”
Which, not even reading between the lines, is flim-flam for ‘I can’t chip, I’ve got the full-on FEAR, I’ve got the chipping yips, I can’t do it any more.’
While the gravy talk last December was a little disconcerting given it was the first negative thing he’s uttered in 25 years, it was also quite endearing.
Yes, yes your defences will be up if you’re the No 1 for decades but just a little more honesty would be lovely.
4) The heart says yes
He’s Tiger, he can do anything, right? He’s won Majors by 15 strokes, he’s won Majors on one leg, he’s won more Majors than Mickelson, McIlroy, Day, Spieth and Dustin Johnson put together.
But beyond all the Majors and 100+ wins around the world he would be guaranteed more support than anyone on Tour if he gave us just a glimpse of those glory days. Fellow players speak of the whole range stopping to watch him simply arrive to hit shots, my most unique memory is from Augusta and remains the strangest experience I’ve ever witnessed on a golf course.
It was approximately 5pm on the Tuesday and everyone was winding down. The bulk of the drama for the day surrounded whether a player could skim a ball across the lake at the 16th, otherwise the patrons were now mainly shopping.
And then bedlam suddenly broke out, grown men started whooping and the scene, which was as tranquil as it could possibly have been, resembled something akin to the caddy pool party at Caddyshack.
The reason was that Tiger had decided to play a quick nine holes before the Champions Dinner. If he was to start threatening again there would be genuine hysteria.
5) The head says no
Who are we kidding? Times have changed and we should all get used to it. It will only take a couple of rounds to be reminded that all his skills, like everyone else who has played the game, are on a downward curve due to the sands of time.
He might have Augusta every year but he hasn’t won there for 11 years. The other Majors are just a bridge too far, remember he couldn’t break 80 at Chambers Bay, he wasn’t even close to being a shadow of his former self at St Andrews. His body’s broken, he’s had the chipping demons, the putts don’t drop any more, maybe something died the day YE Yang broke the jinx, maybe he just doesn’t need it any more.
Only time will tell, roll on – and who thought we’d all be saying this – the Hero World Challenge.