Tiger Woods' leap of faith stirs the senses
Former world number one can now look to the future with some degree of of optimism
Tiger Woods looks on during the trophy ceremony of the Hero World Challenge. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
In what is unquestionably the sleepy part of the golfing season, as the vast majority of players switch off and put their travels on hold, Tiger Woods’s cameo appearance in the Bahamas has - as only he can do - stirred the senses. It would seem that there is life left in the old man yet.
With his 42nd birthday a matter of weeks away, Woods - seemingly fit and pain free, and with sufficient twirls of the club on display in the Hero World Challenge to suggest he’ll be around for a while yet - found upward trajectory in the world rankings as proof that he is indeed back: he jumped from 1,199th to 668th, an improvement of 531 spots.
As it happened, Woods’s leap in the world rankings wasn’t the biggest numerically of the week. That would be Xiao Bowen, whose victory in the KG S&H Asian Golf Championship in China saw him jump from 1,928th up to 516th, some 1,412 places better. However, it is Woods’s move that will obviously hold out the greater anticipation.
Quite clearly, from his comments after his final round, Woods’s future planning will involve mapping out a schedule that will allow his body to remain fit and well while also enabling him to be sufficiently sharp heading into the four Majors, the championships which demand his greatest attention. From golf’s perspective, having Woods back at Augusta National in April, and then at Shinnecock Hills for the US Open in June, at Carnoustie for the Open in July and at Bellerive for the 100th anniversary staging of the US PGA in August, will only add to the intrigue.
That Woods was competitive for three out of four rounds on his latest comeback in the Hero World Challenge certainly bodes well for what lies ahead, with the prospect that, for the first time in years, he can map out a realistic schedule.
Some of the key words he used post-tournament indicate that Woods himself has a mindset of his former glory days. He talked of being “excited” about the journey ahead; and of how his ability to also train was an important element of the week. “Also, (despite) all the functions at night, I still got my training in,” he remarked.
Where Woods was premature in mapping out a schedule for the 2017 season, playing only in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in January (where he missed the cut) and then undertaking an ill-conceived long haul journey to play in the Dubai Desert Classic when the recurrence of back spasms forced his withdrawal after one round, there will be more care and attention taken this time in planning where and when he will play.
There is an expectation that Woods will, as he has traditionally done through the years, reappear at the Farmers Insurance yet again. However, there is also a body of opinion that believes he would be far better off waiting a week for the Phoenix Open, a tournament that is played on a considerably less physically demanding course. Time will tell.
What we do know is that Woods and his team, caddie Joe LaCava and manager Mark Steinberg, can look ahead with some degree of optimism. The glass half full mentality will certainly mean that Woods can start pencilling in some dates on the calendar; just how high that optimism can be, with a view to actually winning tournaments and potentially Majors again, remains to be seen. One thing is certain though, and this is that you can’t win a tournament if you’re not in the starting field.
An indication of how Woods’s return has impacted is that Irish bookmakers BoyleSports dropped his price for winning the Masters from 80/1 to 20/1, and have made him an 11/4 chance to make the US Ryder Cup team for the match in Paris. Again, time will help if such optimism is justified.
However, there is no doubt the Woods effect has returned to the circuit. As US PGA champion Justin Thomas, one of those who has played a number of practice rounds with Woods put it, “(Tiger’s) obviously a lot more upbeat, a lot more positive, a lot healthier than he was last year at this time. He’s got a lot of energy . . . it’s just so weird to say that you’re so excited for somebody else’s year, but it will be a fun year and I hope we duel up a lot.”
Meanwhile, Gavin Moynihan - who missed the cut in the Mauritius Open - will this week aim to rebound in the Joburg Open on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, a tournament that also counts on the PGA European Tour.