It's Only a Matter of Time Before Tiger Wins Again
SO WHAT are we to make of Tiger Woods’ latest comeback? For 54 holes at the Valspar Championship he played some brilliant golf, hitting a succession of glorious iron shots and holing putts for fun, and a huge gallery at Innisbrook were desperate to see him finish the job off on Sunday. When he birdied the first hole it looked like we might be treated to a classic final-day charge, but he dropped a shot at the fourth and then reeled off 12 pars and was clearly struggling with his game.
With Woods, there is always a sense that a moment of genius is just around the corner and it duly came at the 17th when he holed an outrageous birdie putt to get him within one shot of Paul Casey. An odd club choice on the final hole left him with a long approach to the 18th and although he was able to find the green, his 40ft putt never looked like dropping. The most encouraging thing for Tiger fans – and aren’t we all Tiger fans? - was that he was bitterly disappointed at his failure to finish the job off.
The 42-year-old is clearly enjoying the chance that his surgeons have given him to get his career back on track. In the past, he has been utterly blinkered when in contention but we are watching a different Woods now. He interacts with the crowd and he talks to his fellow players as he walks down the fairway. He played with Brandt Snedeker on Saturday and Sunday and it was clear that the two men enjoyed each other’s company.
It may have had something to do with the fact that Snedeker has been through his own injury woes and knows what it feels like to be deprived of doing the thing that you love. When Woods holed that putt on the 17th, Snedeker, who had a dreadful final round, was the first to congratulate him. And when the pair came to the 18th, Snedeker was closer to the hole than Woods but elected to play first in order to leave the stage clear for his rival’s birdie attempt. It was clear that he really wanted Tiger to drain the putt.
The last time he was in contention was at the Wyndham Championship in 2015, where he eventually finished 10th while nursing back pain, and the most recent of his 79 PGA Tour victories came at the WGC Bridgestone Invitational in August 2013. No matter how many tournaments you have won, no matter how many times you have been in contention, finishing the job off is the most difficult thing to achieve in professional golf – or even amateur golf for that matter.
Five years ago, you would have bet your house on Woods winning the Valspar. But you can be sure that even as a 14-time major champion he would have struggled to sleep on Saturday night, knowing that the eyes of the world would be on him. The most encouraging aspect of his performance at Innisbrook was that he produced four sub-par rounds on one of the most difficult courses on the PGA Tour. Overall, he drove the ball pretty well, played some amazing recovery shots and he has managed to rediscover his distance control with his irons – something that seems to have utterly deserted Rory McIlroy for the time being.
Many observers believed that he had lost his short game. This was based on a series of dreadful chips and bunker shots he produced while at his lowest ebb, constantly battling with back pain. He is now playing golf pain-free, for the first time in years. Over four days at the Valspar, Woods put the ball stone dead almost every time he missed the green, and he even managed to hole a chip during the third round for a birdie when he needed it most.
The best news of all is that the man’s putting stroke remains arguably the best in the game. Since day one of this comeback, Woods has putted brilliantly, holing long putts for fun, making the ones that really matter and showing absolutely no frailty over the short ones. If you can stand over a putt and know that you will hole the three-footer coming back if you miss then you are going to be in a good place.
Wow, what an amazing week...people, atmosphere, adrenaline, back nine on Sunday, man I’ve missed this. Getting better. Thank you for all the support!— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) March 12, 2018
Woods’ best chance of landing a 15th major will come at The Masters, where putting is the key. He knows Augusta inside out and everything he is doing right now is geared towards his return there next month. He may or may not win there in April, but one thing is certain: if Tiger Woods remains fit and healthy he will not only add to his 79 PGA Tour wins, he will pass the record of 82 victories achieved by the legendary Sam Snead.
He now heads to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he has owned in the past and will arrive with his confidence sky high. He wasn’t able to finish the job off at Innisbrook but will surely be able to do so when the chance next presents himself. Lets not forget that it was only last summer that he was arrested for being in charge of a vehicle while under the influence of drink or drugs. It turned out that he had become addicted to painkillers. The picture of Woods that was released by the police who arrested him left most of us worrying about his wellbeing. He looked ill, he looked careworn and he looked nothing like the man who had thrilled us all by winning 14 majors. Incredibly, he has made a full recovery and looks and feels better than he has done for years.
We should all celebrate his return and wish him well for the future. Woods really is a very special talent.
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