I had the privilege of being in the front row to comment on Tiger’s return to the PGATOUR today. And 15 yrs ago at this same tournament I had a closer view. The atmosphere and anticipation was very similar though. In 2003 he was the most dominant player on the planet who was still accruing tournament wins and major championships. He was also returning after a relatively short break from a knee surgery and the return drew no real concern from the golf world.
Yet today on a crisp morning the air was so clouded with the complete unknown. So much so that the huge crowd that lined each tee, fairway and green was kinda muted the for opening few holes...Would he show us the superhuman stuff from years gone by? Would there be comprehensive evidence that he will never again be that guy?? - Hell, people were just hoping, wishing, praying that his “glutes would stay activated” and that he’d put in a full days work without limping off the job.
And after a tentative start that included a couple of wayward tee balls and failed up and downs from green side traps a number of media colleagues were thinking this round might continue to go down hill. But he played the final 13 holes a couple under par with short miss at 15 and showed some fighting traits seen before today. By the time the ink had dried on his card I hope he would rate it as very solid pass mark.
A heap has already been made of the swing speed, the smash factor, the spin rate, the angle of attack, the putting stroke etc etc.... and sure playing the four par fives in better than even par is an area for instant improvement that’ll have a measurable effect on his score.
However, I saw today the little tingle that pulsed through his body after striking that flushed 6 iron at 16 that was unforgettable, even to Tiger. Sure the fact that it nearly went in and was a tap in 2 helped, but that ball traveled on a different trajectory, had a slightly different sound and I guarantee you had a different feel to it that any other shot he hit today. It was just a small glimpse back to his former self...I’m not saying it’s a sign, but shots like that match the same pictures he has in his mind from an early career highlight reel and that stuff is a very powerful.
If he is to recreate those same crowd erupting shots it will be a series of small steps and ticked boxes. Regardless of the score on his card or whether he ever lifts another trophy moments like that one today remind us that he is still Tiger Woods, 14 time major champion and that life is simply different out here when he’s around.
One even par round make a summer not, but from my privileged perch I sure saw enough today for Tiger fans to be encouraged and maybe even a little excited with what might lay ahead.