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An Encouraging Island Foray

by Ron Green Jr. - December 04, 2017

Of the many things that came from Tiger Woods’ re-entry into competitive golf last week at the Hero World Challenge, among the most satisfying was the simple reminder of what we’ve been missing.

For the past two decades, Woods has been the most magnetic player in the game and seeing him back at work in the Bahamian sunshine, staring down iron shots and stalking putts, felt both fresh and familiar.

Love him or loathe him, Woods has transfixed us like no one since Palmer and there was a sense last week that maybe he finally can reverse the fraying of his remarkable career.

By now we can all recite the timeline – he hasn’t won The Masters since 2005, he is seven months away from the 10th anniversary of his last major championship victory and he hasn’t won a tournament of any kind since 2013. For the first time in a long time, Tiger gave us – and himself – a reason to look forward.

That had gone missing, lost in a collection of microdiscectomy surgeries, false-start comebacks and various other bumps along life’s road.

Seeing Woods playing tournament golf again, occasionally busting a tee shot past Justin Thomas and, in stretches, making birdies like he used to, was a pleasant surprise. Maybe not to him but certainly to the rest of us.

Think back to Thursday. Did you stop to watch Tiger play, sneak a few minutes of television time while you were at the office? Some people took the day off to watch and bragged about it.

Thursday wasn’t one of those remember-where-you-were moments but it was hopeful and that’s what golf is ultimately about. It’s about the hope that today’s the day the putts will fall and the wind will be at your back.

After all those years of thrills and chills, we’ve become accustomed to being let down by Woods because his back or something else wouldn’t allow him to be who he was. He’ll never be the player who won the Tiger Slam and shredded the record book but maybe he can have one final run to see what he can do.

The way he played at Albany was like a sigh of relief.

There has been an undercurrent of desperation because if having spinal fusion surgery can’t allow him to play golf at a competitive level then we’re left to contemplate what Woods was, not what he still can be.

The quality of Woods’ golf in the Bahamas was unexpected. He’s regained his power and though there were a few hiccups in his short game, he hit plenty of tasty shots around the green, especially for a guy who hasn’t played tournament golf in almost a year. Yes, he shot 75 on Saturday but no one broke 70 that day.

Encouragement beat discouragement, 9 and 8.

It leads to the obvious question of what’s next.

Woods said, “I’m winging this,” when asked about how he sees his playing schedule falling into place in the coming months. He is hopeful of getting back into a routine and there’s every reason after Albany to believe that will happen.

If his back is as sound as it appears to be, Woods probably will play a fairly full schedule in 2018. Why wouldn’t he?

“Play enough but don’t play too much” is how Woods explained his 2018 plans Sunday.

It’s different now because Woods isn’t eligible for the World Golf Championships despite the fact he’s won 18 of them. He will have to play himself back inside the top 50 in the world to be eligible for most of those and that’s a long climb from 1,199th, where he started last week.

Love him or loathe him, Woods has transfixed us like no one since Palmer and there was a sense last week that maybe he finally can reverse the fraying of his remarkable career.

Showing up ready to play in the Bahamas was evidence of how much he wants to be back and Woods seemed to genuinely enjoy being part of the chase again. He will turn 42 at the end of December and there’s a sense he’s begun to let his guard down. Woods will never be the open book Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy are but often it takes losing something to appreciate what you had.

The old Tiger never would have admitted that it’s nice to get out of bed and not use a golf club as a crutch. He shares stories about his children and admits he wants to show them how good he once was. That’s a powerful motivation.

Woods is a generation removed from Spieth and Thomas and Hideki Matsuyama. They know him through their memories and Golf Channel specials. He’s been around team rooms at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup but even the happy holidays vibe in the Bahamas didn’t give them a true sense of what it was like to play against Tiger when he was truly Tiger.

Maybe it’s too far gone now, maybe Tiger’s best won’t be good enough. But maybe not.

“In an ideal world, I would like to have (the younger players) feel what some of my past guys had to go against all those years. I’d like to have them feel that,” Woods said.

That’s the old Tiger talking.

Nice to hear from him again.

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