Friday 22 September 2017

Tiger back on Tour and sets sights on winning

Tiger Woods. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tiger Woods. Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Liam Kelly

Liam Kelly

Tiger Woods is back - and the game of golf is holding its breath.

Granted, that might somewhat overstate the relevance of Woods' return to the PGA Tour in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines which starts on Thursday.

Perhaps it would be more accurate to suggest that while different cohorts within the game will have varied reactions to the 14-time Major champion this week, essentially the message will be a sincere "welcome back, Tiger."

A genuine sentiment of goodwill can be taken as read from the 155 other professionals in the field.

Golf fans around the globe are eager to see a fit Tiger back on the fairways, and of course, his swing, his stats, his body language, and demeanour around the galleries will be analysed in minute detail.

Milestone

No doubt about it, this is a significant milestone in the story of Tiger Woods, who has never quite recovered his aura of invincibility since his career and personal life unravelled in 2009.

It may just be as significant as his professional debut in the Greater Milwaukee Open in August 1996 when he announced himself at a press conference on the eve of the tournament with the words: "I guess ... hello world."

This week, the message is "hello world... again" after almost 17 months off the Tour due to serious back problems and multiple surgeries.

Older, wiser, somewhat battered by the ups, downs, successes, injuries, and scandals of his life, Woods will nevertheless do his best to live up to his bold assertion that: "I am working hard to sharpen my game for 2017, and my goal is simple: to win. Winning takes care of itself."

What a story it would be if and when he does with a PGA Tour event, but Tiger faces a number of challenges.

The first one is to be happy that his body will stay strong enough to make him competitive in this tournament and ideally for a full season, including all four Majors.

The second is to tune in mentally to strategy and course management.

After his outing in the limited field Hero World Challenge in December, Woods spoke of his ring-rustiness.

"Being away from the game that long, I made some really dumb errors I don't normally make, and it cost me. On top of that, I got a couple bad breaks and didn't recover from them," he said.

The good news from that event in the Bahamas was that he played four rounds and got the taste of being a competitive golfer again.

How competitive can he be? The jury is out, according to Ernie Els who locked horns with Woods at his peak and usually came off worst.

The Big Easy wishes Woods the best, but remains to be convinced he can come back as strong as he was ten years ago.

"There's a lot of excellent players out there, some of them playing great golf, so it will be great to see if Tiger can get back in the mix at some of the big events and create even more of a buzz," Els said.

At the ripe old age of 41 Woods returns to an arena filled with hungry, talented golfers.

Jason Day, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose, all of whom are likely contenders any week of the year, cannot just rock up and expect to walk away with first prize.

Winning a tournament on the PGA Tour was never easy, but largely due to Tiger's example and influence, subsequent generations of professionals emerge very well prepared technically, physically and mentally to compete at the highest level.

Justin Thomas has already won three tournaments out of five appearances in the 2017 campaign, and Hideki Matsuyama claimed two victories.

Unknown

Tour rookie Cody Gribble, largely unknown to the general golfing public, took the Sanderson Farms Championship title.

MacKenzie Hughes of Canada, another rookie on Tour, went wire to wire in claiming the RSM Classic.

Into this mix steps Tiger aiming to write a new chapter in his career.

He didn't get where he is today by indulging in self-doubt, so he is bullish about his prospects.

"My love for the game never left. It's just that the body would not allow me to play.

"Now my body is allowing me to do it again. Combine that with the amount of support I have received from so many people, and the help I've had from players and friends, and there is great reason for optimism," said Woods.

 

Irish Independent

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