Is Tiger Woods back?

Nearly a decade has passed since Tiger Woods last won an event on the P.G.A. Tour. Despite his lack of success on the course over the past ten years, his strong 2018 season has sparked hope for fans eager to see Woods rediscover the dominating form of his younger days. He has finished in the top 25 eleven times this season, putting him at 20th in the FedEx Cup standings and landing him a spot in the exclusive Tour Championship.

Woods began the 2018 season with a set of mixed performances that included shooting a 72 and 76 at the Genesis Open in February, in addition to a missed cut at the U.S. Open in June. Despite his mixed results to begin the season, his sixth place finish at the British Open in July marked an impressive improvement in his play. Moreover, Woods tied for second place at the P.G.A. Championship, behind only three-time major champion, Brooks Koepka. The P.G.A. Championship and the British Open are two of the four major tournaments of the year that attract some of the strongest professional golfers in the world. More recently, in early September, Woods made a rally at the BMW Championship in nearby Newtown Square, PA. He finished at 17-under par placing him in the top 10 to finish the tournament. Despite the rain-plagued tournament conditions at the BMW Championship, Woods fired an 8-under par 62 on the first day of the event and finished the tournament only three strokes shy of a playoff won by Keegan Bradley. His solid play at the BMW Championship secured him a spot at the Tour Championship that begins on Thursday in Atlanta, GA. Notably, it will be his first appearance in the season-ending tournament in five years.

Woods’s strong play this year has also landed him a spot on the prestigious United States Ryder Cup team. The Ryder Cup is a biennial match play tournament between teams from the United States and Europe. The Golf Channel reported Woods’s following comment in which he expressed that making “the Ryder Cup team… that was a pretty big task at the beginning of the year and to be able to accomplish that is something I’m very proud of.”

Woods’s sudden turnaround in his golf game over the past year is quite remarkable. In September of 2017, Woods hinted at the possibility of his career ending. During a press conference at last year’s President’s Cup, when a reporter asked Tiger if he could see a scenario in which he would not return to competitive golf, Woods commented, “Yeah, definitely. I don’t know what my future holds for me. As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.” In his response, Woods acknowledged that his play in September 2017 was limited to the extent that he could only hit short pitch shots.

Following Woods’s four back surgeries and absence from leaderboards over the past several years, it has been incredible to see his comeback this season. Nevertheless, his recent triumph is argued by some fans as, perhaps, not a comeback at all. The PGA Tour asked several golf reporters to grade Woods’s comeback during his 2018 season.

USA Today journalist, Steve DiMeglio, shared that he believes Woods’s performance warrants a “B [rating].” DiMeglio justified his response by stating, “No one knew what to expect and I think he has exceeded those expectations. When you haven’t played golf in two years — which is eons of time in this sport — you just can’t come back easily.”

Additionally, Mike McAllister, a contributor to PGATOUR.com, noted similar reasoning for his “C” rating of Woods’s performance. More specifically, McAllister remarked that, “If it’s the Tiger curve… well, probably a B, maybe even a C, since he hasn’t won yet. I suspect that’s the only way he will judge whether his comeback is successful or not.”

Though Woods rose from being ranked over 600th in the world to 20th during the past year, his performances do not match those of his earlier years. That being said, it seems a bit unrealistic to compare his performance after eight surgeries to that of the prime of his career. For example, Woods dominated the 2000 PGA Tour season with nine wins, including the year’s final three majors with impressive margins of victory of seven strokes at the British Open and a seventeen stroke win at the US Open. Unfortunately, with increased competition from younger players, coupled with his aging, it is unlikely that we’ll ever see the level of success that he once achieved.  

Nevertheless, it seems reasonable to consider that Woods’s recent success may, perhaps, be a turning point in his career. Recently, Golf.com conducted an anonymous player survey at the 2018 PGA Championship and the 2018 Wyndham Championship. Ninety percent of the 59 players who took the survey said that they believed Woods would win at least one more major in his career. An even more overwhelming 98 percent think he will win another PGA Tour tournament. The numbers would probably have been far lower a year ago. One golfer, who wished to remain anonymous during the survey, assessed Woods’s chances to win another major in his career. He stated, “A year ago: no way. Now: no doubt [he will come back].”

It is hard to overlook the “Tiger Woods effect” that has been sparked again from Woods’s recent success on the course. In May of 2018, renowned sports journalist Doug Ferguson with the Associated Press explained that Woods is “bigger than he ever was before, and before he was enormous. Now he feels even grander than that and a lot of it is because our memories of golf and our memories of him are very strong.” When asked if the hype surrounding Woods’s comeback is deserved, Ferguson responded that “I think Tiger deserves pretty much whatever he gets just because of what he has accomplished in the game.”

Jamie Lovemark, a fellow competitor on the PGA Tour, commented in May that “the vibe out here [at the tournaments] when Tiger is around is just like seeing a wax figure [for the fans]. Tiger brings a different vibe and it’s a really great feeling.”

Woods has surprised many in the golf world with his recent play. The once-transcendent competitor has somehow turned his game around after nearly a decade of personal and physical setbacks. Consequently, he has been able to recently attract widespread attention that resembles his popularity when he initially came into the professional golf world over twenty years ago. With the upcoming Tour Championship and Ryder Cup, it will be interesting to see if Woods can continue the momentum to end his comeback season on a high note.

 

Christopher Gaeta

Christopher Gaeta '22 is from Central New Jersey. He is a member of the golf team and is looking forward to contributing to the Sports section of The Phoenix.

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