Joe Molloy: Tiger remains golf's top draw
For so much of this year, the mood music surrounding Tiger Woods has been extra bleak. In the absence of concrete information, rumours and whispers took hold There was the back surgery of course, then silence.
Then word of a second back surgery and more silence. He was then done with further back surgery no matter what, and frankly seemed done full stop. There was talk of a farewell appearance at the 2017 Masters, which felt like an utterly depressing finale. Cynics wondered if his promised 'return to golf' was solely connected with new and ongoing endorsement deals.
In October, Woods withdrew form the Safeway Open, describing his game as 'vulnerable'. That he used the word 'vulnerable' marked uncharted territory.
So it was in this context, with a fair degree of apprehension, that the golfing world gathered to watch him play in a nothing event in the Bahamas on Thursday. We have seen him wince his way through too many rounds lately. We have seen him in a car park explaining how his 'glutes didn't activate' before hobbling away. We have seen him duff chip after chip. We have celebrated the next generation of golfers and talked up the rude health of the game. And then on Friday, in this nothing tournament on an easy course, Woods shot a bogey-free 65 and we stopped pretending golf hasn't missed him dreadfully. It was thrilling.
Cold hard statistics bear out his appeal. Golf Channel viewing figures were up 200pc on last year's tournament for the Friday.
His Thursday night was the most viewed first round of golf since The Open. There were mistakes and some rust of course, but crucially there were birdies; 27 to be exact, more than any other player in the field. Jordan Spieth said if Woods hadn't been rusty he could have won the tournament. His former coach Sean Foley said the swing 'looked great'. The 2017 golfing year just got properly exciting.