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Tiger Woods Returns

Thursday marks the most anticipated return since the arrival of the new Star Wars trilogy when Tiger Woods returns to golf to hit his first competitive shot in over 15 months at the Hero World Golf Challenge.

He would follow that shot up with another 72 of them to record a 1-over par 73 at the Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas. In that stretch of 466 days Woods had endured two back surgeries and a plethora of opinions that had left this renaissance in doubt.

And re-birth it is. Nike has been Woods’ equipment and apparel sponsor since he turned professional in 1996, but announced earlier this year that they were closing down their golf equipment (not apparel) business. Just Do It now means do it with someone else’s clubs.

This week, Woods still played with his Nike irons (which are specially designed for him and not something you can buy in a store anyway) but was testing some Taylor Made woods and most significantly was playing a new ball, the Bridgestone Tour B330-S. All the new equipment was now housed in a bag with the Monster Energy logo and was wielded with a new swing (he has been working with Chris Como since the spring of 2014).  

Through the first 8 holes of Thursday’s round, Woods looked like the man who had captured 14 Major Championships as he carded 4 birdies to be one-shot out of the lead. A back-9 40 featured some erratic (even by his wayward driving standards) shots off the tee and a layer of rust that is to be expected after such a long hiatus from being inside the ropes.

The Swoosh on his shirt remained. The swoosh on his game was back in Friday’s second round.  Woods shot the round of the day, a 7-under par 65 that had all the hallmarks of what has made him great. There were prodigious (straight) drives, crisp iron shots, clutch putting and some remarkable scrambling to go along with a couple of fist pumps. 

The Hero World Challenge is limited to an elite field of 18 players, but what it lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality as most of the world’s best players compete. It is not an official PGA Tour event so they don’t earn FedEx Cup points or earnings for the money list, although they do accrue Rolex World ranking points. The event benefits the Tiger Woods Foundation. 

Woods played the front-9 of Saturday’s 3rd round beautifully again making the turn in 4-under par. A closing double-bogey on the 18th though would give him a 2-under par 70 and 11 shots behind the leader, Hideki Matsuyama (who would go on to be the winner).   

A disappointing 4-over par 76 closed the week for Woods but he would be encouraged by much of how he performed for the first three days and that his back held up to four consecutive days of tournament golf.

There may be no more polarizing athlete in all of sport or one for which people have such strong and passionate opinions about, but that is secondary.

Eldrick Tiger Woods may never win another Major or even add to his 79 career wins on the PGA Tour but he really doesn’t have to. He has already cemented his greatness and done things that no golfer may ever be able to replicate. Woods will turn 41 at the end of December. We should treat each tournament that he plays in with a reverence for his being there and be grateful to have a glimpse of his genius.