It was his own tournament, yes, but Tiger Woods made a triumphant return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge this past weekend.
In his first start in 10 months since undergoing a fourth back surgery in March, Woods carded rounds of 69-68-75-68 to finish tied for ninth in the elite field.
With his new swing and a -8 overall, he finished ahead of notables Justin Thomas (2017 FedEx Cup champ), world no. 1 Dustin Johnson and world no. 8 Brooks Koepka, among others.
However, Woods is still without a win on the PGA Tour since 2013 (thought the high profile Hero is not a sanctioned tour event) and he is stuck on 79 total PGA Tour victories, including 14 major championships.
It remains to be seen if Tiger 4.0 (we’ll call him that based on the number of back surgeries) can come all the way back. He has already stated he’ll be playing a carefully selected number of tournaments, which will most likely include all four majors.
There are still many questions we have surrounding this latest comeback attempt. We’ve come up with 10 and prospective outcomes for each.
10. Will Tiger Woods Be Able To Play In Any Events He Wants?
The short answer to that one is yes. Normally, a player who did not finish in the top 125 in the FedEx Cup standings or money earnings doesn’t hold exempt status (he hasn’t been in the top 125 since 2013). But, Woods gets a full PGA Tour exemption based on his victory at the 2013 championships, which comes with a five-year exemption (good until the end of 2018). If his play in the coming golf season isn’t good enough based on the normal rules for qualification (again, top 125 in Fed Ex or money), Woods’ lifetime exemption would kick in. This gives players with at least 20 PGA Tour victories status on the tour and is being used as an exemption this year by Davis Love III and Vijay Singh. The only tournaments he will have to qualify for — by playing well — are the World Golf Championship events, which have no sponsor exemptions or rewards for past performance (he has won 18 WGC tournies).
9. What Prospective Events Might Tiger Opt To Play In?
With a healed back and a new swing, Woods will no doubt be very selective (he has said as much) about what tournaments he will turn out for. These PGA Tour events will be organized around getting his game in shape for the four majors, all of which he is targeting. A prospective list of tournaments leading up to the Masters could include: Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines from Jan 25-28 (he has won eight times at that course); Honda Classic from Feb. 22-25 at PGA National (a “home game” at Palm Beach Gardens, FLA) and the Arnold Palmer Invitational from Mar. 15-18 at Bay Hill (he has won it eight times). Unless he plays well enough to attend World Golf Championship events in advance of the three other majors, he might choose to play in: the Players Championship (May 9-13, 2018); the Memorial (May 31-June 3); AT&T National (June 28-July 1); and the Barracuda (Aug. 2-5).
8. Has The Competition On The PGA Tour Bypassed A Middle Aged Woods?
By the time the 2018 season really gets cranked up — and likely before his first PGA Tour sanctioned event in a while — Tiger Woods will be an “old man” of 42 (his birthday is Dec. 30, 1975). That makes him almost near old enough to be “Dad” to the likes of current stars Justin Thomas (24) and Jordan Spieth (24) and an uncle to guys like Dustin Johnson (33), Brooks Koepka (27) and Rickie Fowler (28). Yes, there are some in their 40s who are still among the top players on the tour — which should give Tiger hope — and they include Charley Hoffman (40), Henrik Stenson (41) and Zach Johnson (41). Yet, the tour of Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy is not the Tiger tour, pre-cheating scandals and injuries. All these “kids” espouse the training regimen that a young Tiger brought to the tour and helped him whip the competition. That is, working out, practicing and eating right instead of hitting the bar post-round. We say the competition may not have totally bypassed him, but it won’t be easy (like in the past) to win in the future.
7. Will New Found Stability Help Tiger Through The Upcoming Season?
In addition to playing very well for the most part at the Hero World Challenge this past weekend, photographers captured the familial side of Woods seldom seen in the past eight years since his infamous break up with Elin Nordegren. He did date Lindsey Vonn for a while, but that didn’t last, and now he has a new girlfriend, Erica Herman. She is 33 and the general manager of his Florida restaurant, The Woods Jupiter, and first made an appearance on his arm at the Presidents Cup earlier this year. More noteworthy was the fact that she was in attendance at the tournament this weekend with Tigers’ kids, Charlie and Sam, in tow. Now, we won’t read too much into that, however, it hasn’t been a familiar sight in recent years, i.e. Tiger the family man. We believe the answer to the question is yes, the presence of a stable girlfriend and his kids at a few tournies can only help.
6. Is This The Year Tiger Finally Wins Another Major?
He’s said to anyone who will listen that he will compete in all four majors next year. Stuck on 14 major championships wins and four back of all-time leader Jack Nicklaus, the easy answer right now would be “no.” His last major was the 2008 U.S. Open and in seven seasons after (he hasn’t played a major since 2015, his best finish was a second at the 2009 PGA Championship. Otherwise, he had eight top-10 finishes at the majors since winning the 2008 U.S. Open, the last a T6 at the Open Championship in 2013. However, this is Tiger Woods we are speaking about and given his relative health right now and the changes in his swing (we’ll get to that), he could surprise everyone and win one. He’s one of golf’s all-time clutch players and he may still have the ability to stalk the field like days of yore.
5. Will Tiger’s New Swing Help His Game?
Ever since turning pro in 1996, Tiger has had four swing coaches. He started with the legendary Butch Harmon and stayed with him until 2003, winning eight majors in 24 starts and 34 total PGA Tour events. He parted ways with Harmon and hooked up with Hank Haney from 2004-2010, winning the last six of his 14 majors and 31 total tour events. Then in the tumultuous years from 2010 to 2014, Woods employed Sean Foley, didn’t win any majors and won eight PGA Tour events in 55 starts. Now Woods’ new swing mentor is Chris Como, who is working with Tiger on his fifth career swing change. The results of Como’s work, so far, look promising and none other than Harmon himself said as much in a recent piece for Sky Sports. Harmon said Tiger’s swing has good freedom of movement and has his famous swing speed back, finally adding “I’ve got to be honest, I really like the way Tiger is swinging the club.” Stay tuned.
4. What Role Could Tiger Play In The 2018 Ryder Cup?
At the last two prestigious team events, the 2016 Ryder Cup and 2017 Presidents Cup, Woods was an assistant captain to Davis Love III at the former and to Steve Stricker at the latter. His role was said to have been that of a very hands-on mentor and very involved in the pairings process. He is a long way from playing his way on to a team that already has provisional favorites Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar earmarked for inclusion, among a few others. Put it this way, Woods upped his world golf ranking from 1,199th in the world to 669th, which is four spots ahead of Love III, but just underneath unknown American Rico Hoey. So, while he would probably love to tee it up with the U.S. team in Paris next September, the role of assistant captain is more likely since he won’t be playing a ton of events in 2018 (a return to Presidents Cup action in 2019 more attainable).
3. Has Tiger Turned The Corner On His Injury History?
With his powerful swing and the torque it puts on his body, Woods has had to deal with many injuries, beginning before his PGA Tour career. In 1994, when he was on the Stanford Cardinal NCAA team, he had a cyst removed from a knee. Since then he’s had a ruptured ACL (2007), surgery to correct it (2008), Achilles tendon issues (2008-09), inflamed neck joint (2010), left elbow strain (2013) and surgery on a pinched nerve in his back (2014). These are but a sample and have all had an effect on his playing ability and availability (as well as leading to prescription drug abuse). Now that he has had nearly a year off and seems like his ailing back isn’t going to work against him, maybe, just maybe, Woods can stay healthy for a calendar year and breath new life into his career and put the Tiger mystique back into tour events. Again, it’s a matter of patience and timing.
2. Will Tiger Be Able To Put All The Scandals Behind Him?
Woods latest transgression — in late May of this year — involved too many painkillers and prescription drugs, lack of sleep (he has been said to be an insomniac) and the ill-fated decision to drive. He was arrested for DUI and part of a plea deal that would have the charges dropped involved a diversion program, which should have been completed by now. So, Tiger has been fairly “clean” for six months. The question is, “will it last?” Ever since that train wreck of a night eight years ago, when Elin found out about his cheating and chased him out of their matrimonial home with a golf club, Woods game has never been the same. He hasn’t won a major, has suffered numerous injuries, lost millions in endorsements and really not played great golf like we’ve been used to. If the new and improved Tiger 4.0 can stay clean and sober, look out. Now that he’s in his 40s, it’s now or never, too.
1. If This Comeback Fails Miserably, Will Tiger “Retire” From The PGA Tour?
So far, so good. But, it’s a long way from playing in an elite event like the Hero World Challenge (albeit a super field) to slogging it out in the trenches of the weekly tour events facing Tiger Woods. His much-anticipated return was a successful one, but consistent golf and remaining injury free are anyone’s guess right now. We’ve speculated on what tournaments he’ll compete in, but we think that if it all goes south on him, “retirement” from all but a chosen few events might be in the cards. As we stated above, he’s going to be 42 and is coming off multiple surgeries (4) on his ailing back, among a host of other ailments that plagued him over a 20-year tour career. He’s a competitive guy (understatement) who won’t throw in the towel completely and without forethought, but if his results show “CUT” or “WD” too many times, retirement might be a preferred and mature choice.