We tell ourselves that golf is fine without Tiger Woods. And mostly, it is.
This season has given us Jordan Spieth’s head-scratching deposits into Rae’s Creek, Dustin Johnson overcoming the USGA at Oakmont, Henrik Stenson outdueling Phil Mickelson at Troon, Jimmy Walker’s nervy par on the 72nd hole at rain-soaked Baltusrol and unexpected joy in Rio. Justin Rose’s gold-medal win and Matt Kuchar’s 63-for-bronze capped off a spectacular final day.
The game would be far more compelling and would generate way higher TV (and Q) ratings if Tiger Woods would re-emerge as Tiger Woods.
So the news that Woods posted on his website, that he “hopes” to play in three events starting with the Oct. 13-16 Safeway Open, in Napa, Calif., was met not with a golf clap, but with a standing ovation.
It’s a small sample size, but check out these quotes from NBC Sports/Golf Channel analysts:
Johnny Miller: “Everybody is pulling for him … You cannot count Tiger Woods out. Talent always comes to the surface if you give it a chance. They say a great fighter or boxer has one great fight left in him. I pick him to win 6-8 more tournaments in his second career, at least.”
From frequent critic Brandel Chamblee: “It’s great news for golf. Golf really does miss Tiger Woods. All sports is star-driven and there is no bigger star in the world of golf or maybe in the world of sports than Tiger Woods.”
More from Chamblee: “I think in the past he has been the victim of his own talent and success coming back, by his own admission, too early. As he has gotten older and now 40 years of age, the door closes so quickly on middle-aged athletes, and especially athletes that have had the injuries that Tiger Woods has had. When you consider all the injuries that he has sustained and all of the surgeries he has sustained, his stated goal of coming back and toppling Jack Nicklaus’ record will be the most compelling story perhaps in all of sports.”
From Woods’ close friend Notah Begay: “I think the expectation of high-level performance, winning, getting into contention as soon as possible is going to be the same, but I think there is going to be a certain level of maturity and forgiveness for himself if he doesn’t get there as quickly as he had in the past.”
The Safeway Open actually marks the beginning of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season. Woods said he also aims to play in the Turkish Airlines Open (Nov. 3-6 in Antalya, Turkey) of the European Tour and the Hero World Challenge (Dec. 1-4 in the Bahamas).
Last we saw Woods with a golf club, he was dunking three straight short-iron tee shots in the water at Congressional Country Club in May. And that was just an exhibition to promote his Quicken Loans National event.
“Boy was that stiff,” he said after rinsing the first shot. “Holy cow.”
He missed the second and was goaded into hitting a third, which also came up short.
“See, I needed warmup,” he remarked.
A multitude of injuries and back surgeries have shelved Woods since August of 2015, his last competitive round. His world ranking has fallen to 711.
“My rehabilitation is to the point where I'm comfortable making plans,” he said, “but I still have work to do. Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery. My hope is to have my game ready to go … It could be a fun fall.”