It’s official: Tiger Woods is on his way back. As previously speculated, the former World Number One and most dominant golfer in the history of the sport has recovered from back surgery — and a litany of other issues on which we won’t dwell here — to enter the Hero World Challenge at the end of November.
It’s a story which is likely to attract focus for the reasons alluded to above, and many others. The private tribulations he has experienced have added a — slightly prurient — element of intrigue to watching him play golf, which is just a fact he, and those who follow the sport, will need to accept. In this particular case, though, an added wrinkle is that he will return at an event that he himself hosts. It’s worth wondering about the impact that fact may have on this event.
A Competitive Field
A player returning to competition in any sport will often take the decision to warm up by playing a few low-key events before stepping up to face the big hitters again. Tiger will not be doing that. As a host for the event being played in the Bahamas, he can add himself to the field, he can’t force the select field of stars to go easy on him.
Last year, for example, the Hero World Challenge was won by Hideki Matsuyama, ahead of other young tyros such as Rickie Fowler and Dustin Johnson. In contrast, Woods, who according to betting site Betway as more likely to retire in 2018 than make the Ryder Cup team, was fourteen shots behind in 15th.
Matsuyama To Repeat?
Although the field is as yet unconfirmed (aside from Woods’ selection of Daniel Berger, no slouch himself), it’s safe to say the world’s top-ranked players will be on show, including the defending champion Matsuyama. With his unique swing, the Japanese star has one of the most feared tee-to-green games in all of golf– and at a course designed by Ernie Els, that’s a definite advantage.
We can also expect Johnson, Fowler, and Spieth to be there and, for once, they won’t grabbing the limelight. With Spieth in particular famed for his own laser focus, the media ballyhoo around Woods is unlikely to put him off his game, and the rest of the field may even enjoy the relatively quiet time they’ll have thanks to Tiger’s presence. Justin Thomas, sitting third in the rankings and the latest new major winner — having picked up the PGA Championship in August –may also be worth backing here.
Can Tiger Win?
In the average golf tournament, a player needs to beat a field of dozens to emerge victorious. At Albany, you just need to be better than seventeen other players. Unfortunately, unless Woods finds the desire which seemed to have gone from his game by the end of last year, he’s probably not in contention. Maybe it doesn’t matter; at 41, he’s around fifteen years older than the main contenders these days, but could have decades left to enjoy the game and solidify his legacy. As those young contenders so influenced by Woods can tell you, that legacy is one which will stand comparison with any other.
In some ways, Tiger is becoming a victim of that same legacy. Before he appeared on the scene, conditioning wasn’t something golfers thought about much– John Daly won two majors in the 1990s, after all. With an ultra-professional approach and a focus on fitness, Woods would be hitting as far and putting as well on Day Four as he was on the first tee of the first round.
Because this disciplined approach turned out to be extremely effective, the players who came after Woods did it too. Now they’re the wiry, lean, hungry ones and — with fourteen majors and a whole lot of controversy in his past — the greatest golfer of all time will need to find superhuman reserves of mental strength just to run them close at Albany.