After spending five consecutive days inside the ropes following Tiger’s return to the PGA Tour a few observations are;
1: The fans a fanatical for Tiger Woods. Despite the outrageously great play of DJ, JT, Jordan, Rory, JDay, Rahm and company over the last few years when they have all made runs winning tournaments in dramatic and emphatic fashion, Tiger is hands down still the biggest draw and in the game. People go nuts when they see him up close..and he loves it whether he shows it or not. The number of people in Tiger inspired outfits either with a swoosh on the chest or kids an orange ensemble with a fury tale were too many to count. Of course the exception is when people get too carried away and yell out too early during swings or putts like on the 13th on Sunday. This unfortunately comes with the territory and is part of the mayhem he’s indirectly created.
2: Although his body is far from the what it once was and is yet to be fully retrained to playing tournament golf, it does look relatively stable. The challenge will be developing a consistency and reliability day in and day out that can withstand preparing, playing and performing at the highest level. That may require different maintenance practices to sustain prolonged periods of stress free swinging.
3: He has a different perspective on the game, his career, and his influence over the generations that will follow him. He showed a humility and an honest, authentic vulnerability that we’ve never ever publicly seen from him at a tournament not even as a rookie in back 1996. He has always had a strong self belief and I don’t ever see that changing. But I sense there is a new found respect for the game and the competitive environment that is the Tour. He once used to dominate his peers with ease stomping all over them metaphorically as he marched to victory. That’s not the case now and more than likely he’ll never again be afforded that luxury due to the generation he’s inspired. I think he deep down now appreciates how sweet that view was from the top of the mountain and how much fun it would be to once again make the climb. He also has different life responsibilities now and balancing the burning drive with being a parent provides a different and very valuable perspective.
4: He’s human and feels just as nervous as anyone on the first tee. He admitted to feeling a rush of adrenaline that comes with the anxiety of his opening tee shot in each round. He struggled each of the first 3 days to control that emotion which in turn busted his rhythm and tempo for the first few holes Once settling down he found a playing, swinging and walking cadence that allowed him to execute some beautiful shots. But the control and feel for that pace of movement was a very conscious effort and will require a little more deliberate practice before it becomes second nature once again. When chatting on a few occasions between holes it was a nervous excitement that he was feeling that I’m not sure I’ve seen out of Tiger for a long, long time.
5: His driving remains his Achilles heel and that’s not just because that’s one of the multiple injuries he’s had throughout his career... I’m not going to beat him up on this initial showing because Torrey South is a challenging lay out to find the short grass due to the tilted fairways and linear mowing profiles.. However, to have some success at Riviera in 3 weeks time he’ll need to find the landing strip at least 50% of the time. The marvelous George Thomas design is far too strategic to allow for equitable recovery from the wrong angle of play. This last week he had a clean lie for less than 33% of his second shots yet was able to scratch and scramble for par or better scores at the end of each round.
6: Although his short game was on called on often and delivered some really nifty up and downs I’m not convinced his pitching is there just yet..The chipping from the rough was brilliant at times and his bunker game improved over the week but his variety of pitch shots from short grass that he once played on multiple trajectories with total spin control is still a work in progress.
7: Augusta looms large in his mind and although the other major championships are legit, The Masters is his best chance of winning another major. There are so many reasons why this is the case but in my opinion, I saw enough this week to suggest he will at the least contend for another green jacket before the final bell rings.
A few people have bemoaned the fact that too much focus was given to Tiger this past week when he wasn’t in contention at any stage during the tournament. I realise there are some golf fans but they aren’t for any number of reasons are not fans of Tiger Woods. That’s fine. I’ve had my moments too where his actions both inside and outside the ropes have caused me to challenge his integrity. He lives with that and it’s his business, not ours.
But consider this....Although, no athlete is bigger than their sport over the last 20 years Tiger Woods has had an influence over the present and future of this game equal to or maybe greater than, any player in golfs history. That impact reaches far wider than the professional players on TV any given week.
The success of the PGATOUR is largely founded on the charitable business model where all ticket sales and significant percentages of concession income and generous sponsor gifting raises millions of dollars each week for numerous local charities. It’s simple.. the more people through front gate on any given week means more dollars out the back door straight back into the communities the Tour visits.
The Century Club who run the tournament at Torrey Pines have raised well in excess of US$50 million over the years and the Farmers last week will have raised nigh on US$2 million in the last 7 days thanks to the record crowds and audience numbers that watched the tournament in person or on the multiple media broadcast platforms. Farmers love the gig so much they signed a sponsorship extension through 2026 guaranteeing the charitable gifting of over $20 million in the coming years.
The PGA Tour events and numerous initiatives last season combined to raise just shy of US$200 million that go directly back to community programs benefiting children, families, the disabled or less privileged, hospitals, service personal and many other citizens of need that have no idea who Tiger Woods is.... Sure the TV networks, Sponsors and the even the corporate function of PGATOUR have a businesses to run and bills to pay so they make decisions based on winning there own ratings battles. But if in some small way the people that will never have the good fortune in life to witness Tiger Woods strike a golf ball can benefit from those that us that do, then I’m just fine with that.
No doubt, many very deserving players may not have had their talents shown on TV this past week and therefore their careers not promoted as a consequence. I feel for their friends and families but Tiger doesn’t play every week. However, his performances over the last 20 years have afforded the modern day tour player opportunities every time they tee it up to be compensated well beyond their station in society. Lucky them! Fun week!