The finish was rocky and probably not what Tiger Woods wanted, but he finished. The bar was low and despite a final round 4-over 76, Tiger met, (or, depending on your standards, exceeded) expectations this week at the Hero World Challenge.
This tournament was not some critical litmus test for what’s possible for the rest of Tiger’s career. It was a return, an opportunity for some low-stakes reps in a silly season event against the best players in the world. Granted, the stakes were higher for Tiger than anyone else in this 18-man field. The pressure for Tiger was incongruous with what was on the line and the 14-time major winner showed he can still hang with the best on the PGA Tour. He also stayed healthy, which, given the troubles of the last three years, is an accomplishment on its own.
We saw several grainy social media videos of his swing at different points over this last 16-month hiatus. In those clips, Tiger often seemed to take tentative cuts at the ball. On the rare occasion he did make a swing in full view of TV cameras, he chunked three little flip wedges in the water at Congressional in what was supposed to be an innocent little PR stunt but turned into an embarrassment. This week, there was no holding back or tentative lost swing. This emphatic rip with the driver on Sunday left us salivating.
Yeah, the back looks OK.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 4, 2016
Tiger Woods pic.twitter.com/hh3jt28k6s
The Tiger haters, and there’s an army of them, will scoff and say we’re making excuses for a once-dominant player who finished 15th out of 17 entrants and led the field in double bogeys. The circumstances, however, allow excuse-making and optimism. The paradigm has moved with Tiger based on the last three years.
This was not an event we demanded Tiger win or else it would be considered a failure. He did not even have to contend. He could have even come in last place, a real possibility given the small field of the best players and the 898th ranked player in the world. We just needed to see that he was healthy, wouldn’t embarrass himself, and could still call on some sort of shotmaking arsenal, however inconsistent it may be compared to the glory days.
Woods finished the tournament with a double bogey on the 18th hole, his third in four trips there this week. As Brandel Chamblee was quick to point out at the end of his round, Tiger’s six doubles (or worse) this week was the highest in the field and the worst of his career. The driver, a weapon for so many of the top young players in the world these days, is still woefully unreliable. Tiger’s never been particularly accurate off the tee but he got himself into trouble this week that he could not recover from, resulting in that high total of double bogeys.
While those big crooked numbers popped up on the card too much, Tiger also showed signs of that shotmaking we hoped was still in there and led the field in birdies, too. The optimists will pay attention to that number — the field-leading birdie total — and say the ugly stuff was just rust, sloppiness that can be eradicated with more reps between now and, say, April. The reality of the player that’s left at age 40 and what we get going forward is probably somewhere in the middle. He’ll be sharp some weeks, ugly others, and hopeful to wipe out the mistakes in the rounds that matter most.
Sunday’s 76 is the worst round of the week among the field. Those are still in there too and will happen again. But we saw no signs of back trouble or the chip yips, the two afflictions that were serious and separate threats to end his career. That’s what took the Tiger experience to such a dark place so fast. So while he’s probably not happy with that finishing number, he said the week, overall, was a success after "not being able to move" and facing the toughest and most painful challenge of his career during these rehab months.
We saw a healthy Tiger making a lot of brilliant shots this week. We saw him with his old Scotty Cameron putter, the magic one that delivered 13 of his 14 majors, back in the bag and roll him to several birdie streaks that provoked a collective freakout on golf Twitter. We saw him strut and club twirl and fist pump and we ate it all up.
We’ve written so many dire and depressing things about Tiger in recent years. This week, it was just good to have him back holding us captive. He made an otherwise inconsequential offseason event a must-watch, then whipped us into a frenzy in three of four days with stretches of play that were vintage stuff from the old days.
We’ll choose to be encouraged about all the good we saw, perhaps toast each other with Tiger’s Monster energy beverage of choice, and think about what could come next when the season starts anew in 2017.
Here are your final results from the Hero World Challenge:
|Place||Player||Score||Round 1||Round2||Round 3||Round 4||Total|