After playing just three tournaments in the first seven months of 2020, Tiger Woods might now push his creaking spine to contest five in eight weeks as he attempts to reignite his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus at the head of the major charts.
For golf thus could well be a case of from famine to feast when it comes to seeing its biggest icon.
Woods finished off his challenge for the 102nd US PGA Championship at Harding Park, San Francisco, last night with a commendable 67 that hurtled him up the leaderboard to one under.
However, the fact that he closed out his last round two hours before the pacesetters set out in the hunt for the Wanamaker Trophy, the first major of this strange season, only served to sum up his week.
Considering this was only Woods’s fourth start of the year and that, with a perpetually stiff back, the chilly temperatures in North Carolina made it hardly ideal, this was probably as much as his admirers could have hoped for.
Except, Woods’s remarkable CV and yet more stunning storylines persuade the fans into believing anything is possible to the extent that even his own coach, Hank Haney, was tipping him in the build-up.
The 44-year-old is clearly at least a few tournaments short of full match fitness and should he come through the forthcoming three events in the FedEx Cup play-off series, then next month’s US Open at Winged Foot might offer a realistic ambition to see him racking up No 16. Certainly, Woods thinks a busy spell is a necessity.
“We’ve been training for that,” Woods said. “Trying to get my strength and endurance up to that ability to making sure that I can handle that type of workload. We knew once I started playing again when I committed to (last month’s) Memorial that this was going to be a heavy workload, and in my training sessions we’ve been pushing it pretty hard, making sure that I kept my strength and endurance up. This week off will be no different.
“We’ll be pushing it hard to make sure that I can stay strong and have the endurance to keep on going.”
Woods is in the top 50 in the FedEx standings and will need to be in the top 30 if he is to qualify for the Tour Championship at the end of this month.
Any golfer worthy of his self-belief always assures himself or herself that they performed better than they actually did and Woods is no exception.
Granted, the new putter he put in his bag did not oblige, but still it is hard to envisage himself going out as a contender in the finale, regardless of Woods’s claims to the contrary.
“What I got out of this week is that I felt I was competitive,” Woods said.
“If I would have made a few more putts on Friday early on, and the same thing with Saturday,
“I felt like I would have been right there with a chance come today. It didn’t happen, but I fought hard, and today was more indicative of how I could have played on Friday and Saturday if I would have made a few putts early. I was pretty sharp the entire week and just didn’t hit the putts hard enough on a couple days.
“That’s golf. We lose way more tournaments than we win. But overall, I think I had one three-putt for the week and I had no double bogeys, and that’s always something that you want to do throughout 72 holes of a major championship. Unfortunately I didn’t make enough birdies, and I’m not there with a chance come this afternoon.”
There was a bogey on the last to assist in his conviction that it could all have been so much different. Until that point there had been five birdies – including at least two fine approaches from 150 yards to kick-in distance on the fifth and 14th – and just the solitary bogey.
The most surreal moment in the behind-closed-doors atmosphere was when Woods was on the 12th tee and South Korea’s An Byeong-hun made a hole-in-one on the nearby 11th green.
Woods did not even realise. “Joey (LaCava, his caddie) told me he made it after I hit my tee shot,” Woods said. “Joey said he heard a scorer yell. I didn’t. I was grinding on my tee shot.” (© Daily Telegraph, London)