Tiger Woods’s return, five things we learned

 

By Thomas Dodd

  • Tiger Woods played his first PGA Tour event in over 17 months last weekend
  • 14 time major champion missed the cut by four shots at Farmers Insurance Open
  • American heads to Dubai this week for second event in run of four.
CALIFORNIA, USA – The long awaited return of Tiger Woods to the PGA Tour did not quite go to plan.

 

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The rust is still there

Tiger’s only appearance on Tour in 2016 at the Hero World Challenge saw him record more birdies than anyone else in the 18 man field, but Torrey Pines could not have been more of a different story. A serious of errant drives (he found the fairway only a handful of times in round one, while round two wasn’t much better) coupled with a mixed bag of errors with his irons, meant Woods was constantly left chasing his tail around the in-places saturated golf course, suggesting the cogs may need to be oiled a few more times before he can start to think about competing for his desired ‘W’ once more.

 

He is more relaxed

Tiger’s usual tournament mantra in his pomp was to simply block out everything around him and focus on his own game, but in South California last week he seemed to take on a different persona one out on the golf course . The normally steely, business-like facial expressions were for the most part replaced with warm smiles, polite chit-chat with playing partners Jason Day and Dustin Johnson and even para-linguistic acknowledgements of good shots from those around him (Day also received a big hug on the first tee on Thursday). As Woods prepared to pack his stuff on Friday evening and leave, he seemed more chilled and accepting of his performance over the previous two days. Offering more of an explanation than an excuse for his missed cut, Woods told the PGA Tour media at the end of the round:

“I hit a lot of beautiful putts that didn’t go in, but I hit it much better today, which was nice.”

 

Whisper it quietly, but he might just be injury free

Not something he has honestly been able to say for probably a good four years, but the back issue of recent times did seem genuinely repaired – especially after a receiving a thorough examination due to its owner’s at times abysmal driving. The Torrey Pines rough isn’t the worst on tour, but after rain early in the week lies were horrible and the grass was incredibly thick in patches. Seeing the 41-year-old taking full swings to gouge the ball as far as possible in the direction of the hole would have made some fans hold their breath, but Tiger’s all out attack on balls plugged in the deep stuff seemed to do him no harm at all, and the ‘speed’ through the ball he talked about lacking throughout his rehab appears to have finally returned.

 

The short game is sharp

As part of a PGA Tour Facebook Live video before the tournament, Woods was asked about which part of the game amateur golfers should practice to lower their handicap. The reply: “chipping and putting.” Based on his own performance in those departments last week, Tiger is definitely practising what he preaches. The short game on and around the greens saved Woods on numerous occasions at Torrey (the fact he still missed the cut by four demonstrates how bad the rest of his game was at times). The nature of Woods’s misses with his irons meant the full repertoire of chips and pitches were brought out, and with the old trusty Scotty Cameron putter in the bag he looked as confident with the flat stick as he has done in years.

 

He’s closer than the result might suggest

The other crumb of comfort Tiger may take away from Torrey is that playing partners – Day and Johnson – also missed the cut, and both were outscored by Woods on the North course on Friday. It might not make much of an impression in the history books, but these are two players who effectively played a full season in 2016 and had already teed it up in 2017, so to score lower than both on just his second day back would have given Woods a fairly good idea of where he is – not where he wants to be, but heading in the right direction.

 

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