Club twirls, fist pumps and walking in putts – Tiger's return was just like old times

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Tiger Woods started the week just hoping to get through four rounds uninjured, he ended it with us all licking our lips for the Masters in April

We’ve had long enough to picture how this was all going to play out. Plenty of perceived wisdom was that Tiger would have to do things a little differently this time around; being four back surgeries in he would now have to position his way around the course, nothing explosive like the good old days. Maybe a few more 3-woods off the tee, take down the par 5s in a more savvy manner than the tried-and-trusted driver-long iron detonation.

Though the real likelihood was that he’ll probably be on the scrapheap soon enough anyway. He’s been operated on more than the Six Million Dollar Man. As recently as two months ago, which were a long, long way removed from his very darkest days, he wasn’t even sure he’d be able to sit in a buggy as a vice-captain at the Presidents Cup, let alone play competitively.

Could he imagine not teeing it up again? “Definitely. I don’t know what my future holds for me. The pain’s gone, but I don’t know what my golfing body is going to be like.”

This was as recent as September 28.

Rory McIlroy responded with this: “If he doesn’t play again, he’s been the greatest player I’ve ever seen. Jack [Nicklaus] has a better record but I don’t know if he played better golf. If this is it, Tiger doesn’t have anything to prove to anyone; not to me, not to you, not to himself.”

Fast forward two months and this sort of thing is now happening…

A renowned Vegas bookmaker had him down as a 100-1 shot for Augusta next year, after an outward half of 31 on Friday he was down to 15s.

There was no patting it off the tee – maybe his ego would never accept that – and his body was functioning better than anyone was ever expecting. This was so far removed from the ‘Making Progress’ driver that he put on Twitter that we all pored over on October 15.

On Sunday he missed just one fairway and that was by just a few feet.

There were a succession of 3-woods and 2-irons – how do you even put a 2-iron in the bag when you haven’t had a card in your back pocket for 301 days? – that were ‘smoked’ to the par 5s. Talk to me Joey.

This was all just meant to be a run-out to see if he could manage 72 holes. In the end there were twirls, fist pumps, recoils, walking in of putts, chipping off putting surfaces to save par… All we were missing was an ‘In your LIFE’ moment.

So, so far so good – and then some.

Yes, this week in the Bahamas was so far removed from a full-field PGA Tour event with crowds, a cut, no awkward tee times and everyone there to grind one another into the dirt rather than end the season on a nice jolly/line their pockets for one last time.

Yes, there were some chunky chips but Woods’ short game has been to far worse places, remember when he explained some full-on chyips as being caught ‘between patterns’, and then came back plenty good enough to be perfectly acceptable at Augusta. This was, more likely, some very grainy surrounds allied to a bit of rust.

Yes, there was a third-round 75 but it’s worth remembering nobody broke 70 on Saturday, the average was close to 73 and the wind was up.

This is what happens with Woods and yet we’re still surprised when it happens – he might have won nothing since 2013, he might be major-less since 2008, he might be nearly 42 with a body in tatters but we’ve all come away from a hit-and-giggle week in the Bahamas, now in December, licking our chops for when we might get another look at him. Torrey Pines gets going on January 25, by the way.

In the end it all added up to an eight-under aggregate 280, a tie for 9th but these numbers are almost irrelevant. Then again he beat Justin Thomas, the Player of the Year, by one, the World No. 1 Dustin Johnson by eight and the US Open champion Brooks Koepka, whose last start was a nine-shot victory, by 11.

The smile on Tiger’s face walking up the 18th was maybe broader than anything we’ve seen in any of his 14 major wins. Only he knows properly what’s he been through to get back to this stage, can you imagine what he might be like in five months’ time in the first week of April?

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