Tiger Woods Achieves First Small Victory in Comeback
HOW often during his illustrious career would you expect Tiger Woods to finish in a tie for 23rd place in a tournament - any tournament - and sum it up afterwards by saying that he did "pretty well". It is a measure of just badly his body has suffered that getting through 72 holes in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines represented some kind of a small victory for a man who has won 14 majors.
It was the first time that he had found himself strolling down the final fairway in a regular 72-hole PGA Tour event since August 2015. The first thing to record is that he came through four rounds unscathed, shooting rounds of 72, 71, 70 and 72 to finish on three under par, just seven shots behind the leaders. It is not a bad performance for a man who failed to make the cut in this same event 12 months ago - one he has won on seven occasions.
Afterwards he headed off to the Middle East and withdrew after one miserable round at the Dubai Desert Classic, before going under the surgeon's knife again in April. At one point he doubted he would ever play competitively again but here he is back in action and telling the world he is still swinging the club pain-free.
Woods said the he "had to jack up the speed" on some shots but had "no issues at all" with his body. "The big concern was playing out of the rough," the 42 year-old American said. "I hadn't played out of rye grass since last year. I hit some really good ones out of there. Unfortunately I put myself in there."
And that is an understatement. He only managed to find 17 fairways all week - and eight of those came during his opening round. One of the features of his driving at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas in December was that he managed to hit most fairways and ended up making this look like quite an easy game, with three scores in the 60s.
You have to worry when you hear Woods saying that he needs to find more speed. He doesn't. And if he goes looking for it, the chances are high that he is going to damage his back again. Too often at Torrey Pines, Woods looked like he was trying too hard with the driver in his hands. The truth is that he still hits it plenty far enough.
Golf is an easier game when it is played from the middle of fairways and if Woods stops trying to hit the ball into the middle of next week he is likely to find more fairways. So his driving clearly still needs a lot of work.
However, there were plenty of positive signs. Not least his attitude. "I am very pleased," he said. "After not playing for a couple of years and coming out here on [the PGA] Tour and playing a solid four days. I fought hard for these scores. This was a lot of fight." And much of it was done with a smile on his face.
Much has been said and written about his short game, particularly his pitching and chipping. We don't have to worry on that front. The stats tell their own story. As a result of his inaccurate driving, Woods played many shots from the rough, so it comes as no surprise to learn that he missed 30 of 72 greens in regulation - and he left himself in some pretty horrible places too. Let us not pretend that his chipping is as good as it once was, but his putting was remarkable, almost as good as it was when the man was at his very, very best.
He struck some world-class shots with his wedges and short irons - shots that he would have been proud to play when still in his prime. Now just imagine how many more of those shots he will be able to hit if he can actually find some fairways.
Perhaps the most encouraging thing of all in Tiger's performance over four days at Torrey Pines was his cussed determination. Needing a birdie to make the cut, he did so with an astonishing two-putt at a par five where he struck a glorious shot to find the green in two but was so far from the hole that he was almost in a neighbouring state. Not only did he safely make his birdie, but he almost holed the thing for an eagle.
You can be sure that he got the last drop from his game, that he refused to give up. You average PGA Tour pro, forced to play from the positions Woods found himself, would have struggled to break 80.
And now, of course, everybody wants to know when and where we are going to see him play next. He has entered the Genesis Open at Riviera in Los Angeles but is reluctant to commit himself to the other tournaments he will want to play in the build-up to The Masters in April until he sees how his body reacts to 72 holes at Torrey Pines.
"I haven't built out my schedule. We want to see how I was swinging after one tournament and reassess where I'm at," said Woods. "It's nice to get this one under my belt though. It's nice to see I was able to still grind."
You may think that I have lost my marbles, but I am convinced that Woods will win tournaments again in 2018 - and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him in the mix at Augusta in April. And what a mouthwatering prospect that would be.
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