By Thomas Dodd
- Former world number one Tiger Woods returns to PGA Tour for first official event since August 2015
- 14-time Major champion now ranked 663rd in Official World Golf Rankings
- Woods finished 15th in last outing- a limited field event in December 2016
CALIFORNIA, USA – Tiger Woods isn’t a member of Torrey Pines, site of this week’s Farmers Insurance Open on the PGA Tour, but history would suggest the 14-time Major champion must feel very at home whenever he steps on the coastal layout in South California.
Eight times in his illustrious career has Tiger Woods left Torrey with the winners’ trophy in tow, seven times as a regular TOUR event winner, most recently in 2013, and once as a major champion – the site of his last success on the biggest stage back in 2008. There was also the small matter of the 1991 Junior World Golf Championship, where Woods also prevailed.
Truly then, he could not have chosen a better course to make his first meaningful appearance on the PGA Tour in 17 months this week.
A Woods tournament entry, particularly one after a now ever more common injury lay off, always brings a lot with it. Ticket sales, yes. TV ratings, yes. But also many questions and this week is no different as Woods looks to kick start what he hopes may even become somewhat of a second career.
The now 41-year-old went some way to answering those questions at the HERO World Challenge event at the end of 2016. Despite finishing 15th of the 18 entries at the slightly relaxed season climax, nobody in the field that week matched Woods in terms of birdies made, and only a series of mistakes most likely a result of competition rust stopped Tiger contending as he plotted his way around a golf course on a Sunday in his iconic resplendent red shirt for the first time in well over a year.
The answer to the question ‘has the rust gone’ will only be answered after Torrey, but a solid winter break on the range will hopefully have led Woods to have his game competition sharp for the first time in going on for three and half years.
If the HERO was a true indication of the potential, the rest of the TOUR may just have to stay alert as the Tiger stalks his prey.
But those on TOUR have changed, and there is now a whole new generation of players to go up against. World Number One Jason Day is also in the field at Torrey this week, and despite being friendly off the course with Woods, has never had to face the American down the stretch.
Then there’s Hideki Matsuyama, a player Woods, by his own admission no less, rates. The Japanese world ranked number six has won six of his last eight tournaments worldwide and finished second two weeks ago at the Tour’s traditional opener in Hawaii.
Justin Thomas, who is absent from Torrey this week, is also on fire with two wins from two starts so far in 2017, including a record setting 59 at the Sony Open two weeks ago.
One man teeing it up on Thursday is Phil Mickelson, a player very much used to being on the wrong end of a Woods masterclass. The 46-year-old, once a fierce adversary of the 79-time PGA Tour winners, may now actually be someone Tiger can aspire to replicate over the next five years and beyond.
But Mickelson has dazzled in his 40s, winning two majors and contending in several more. Furthermore, outside of Lefty, it would not have gone unnoticed by Woods that the last two Major championship winners, Henrik Stenson at the Open and Jimmy Walker at the USPGA, were in their 40s.
Now at 41, Woods is running out of time in his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus‘s record total of 18 majors and every year that passes seems to condemn him to a position in history he is neither comfortable with or used to. Second.
Ten years ago it seemed there was nothing in the game of golf Woods couldn’t achieve. As he attempts to re-invigorate a recently patchy phase of his career, Torrey Pines this weekend could go a long way to revealing what is still possible for the greatest player of his generation.
For the man himself, the mantra remains the same. Only a win will do.
Not for the first time, the eyes of the world will be on him.
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