August 2015 at the Wyndham Championship golf tournament, Tiger Woods finished tied for 10th place. He took home a paycheck of $129,000 but it was very little comfort since he didn’t move on in the Professional Golfers Association (PGA) playoffs. He needed to finish in at least second place to advance to the Barclay’s tournament. The former world number one golfer had dropped in the rankings to 257th place. Tiger had two back surgeries and planned on making his return at the Safeway Open in California in October. He said he felt healthy but his game was “vulnerable”. He withdrew from that tournament and the Turkish Airlines Open that same month. He promised to work hard to be ready to play for his foundation’s Hero World Challenge tournament in December. On December 1st he played his first competitive round of golf as the 898th ranked player in the world in 15 months. The results?
Tiger’s first hole was a Par 4 which he ended up making exactly that. After that, we saw positives and negatives from his opening round. He birdied five holes, bogeyed two, and double bogeyed two for a one over par score of 73. On Friday, he played like the Tiger of old. He shot a seven under par score of 65, which consisted of seven birdies and no bogeys. This was the Tiger that could win a major championship again. On Saturday and Sunday, it seemed like the rust and physical aspect of the tournament got to him. He had a score of two under and four over respectively. Tiger made 24 birdies to go along with six double bogeys and eight bogeys as he finished four under par. Hideki Matsuyama won the tournament with an 18 under par score. Tiger played against the top 18 players in the world but finished 15th. This doesn’t seem positive but he had low expectations coming in. He wanted to make sure he could physically play. Tiger said, “It feels a little weird to not play in a cart. Getting my legs back, getting my body back, this part of it, getting back to this point has tested [me] beyond anything I’ve experienced in my lifetime. The pain, the issues I have, it was just rough. To battle back, to battle through it … there were some pretty dire times there where I couldn’t move. Those are scary times.” This is the first time he has walked a full round of golf, consisting of 72 holes. His stamina is something that was tested for the first time. He also proved he could make enough great shots during the tournament. He was either really good or really bad. It was feast or famine. He either birdied or bogeyed a hole but those mistakes are fixable. Tiger said, “It was a great week to be back — playing again and competing, playing against the best players in the world. Unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes this week. I made a lot of birdies, but I made a lot of mistakes. I made some poor decisions.”
One thing is for sure, everyone was tuned in. Whether you tuned in to see him win or tuned in to see him lose, you will be tuned in to see if he was back. During Thursday’s coverage, it drew a .86 rating (786,000 viewers), which was up 190 percent from coverage of last year’s event when he didn’t play. According to NBC/Golf Channel, that’s the most-watched first round of any tournament outside of the Ryder Cup, since the British Open. It’s also the most-watched fourth-quarter round in Golf Channel history. On Friday, it was up 200 percent over last year. On Saturday, the Golf Channel’s live coverage was up 162 percent, and NBC’s increased by 92 percent. Sunday’s live coverage was up 126 percent, while NBC’s increased by 54 percent.
Going forward Tiger showed signs that he could definitely win another tournament or multiples. The mental aspect of winning another major championship is something that I think will elude him. I hope I’m wrong, but if he’s physically healthy I give him a 20 percent chance of winning a major. One thing that will help is his old putter that he won 13 of his 14 major championships with. It’s a Scotty Cameron Newport 2 German stainless steel (GSS). Since Nike left the equipment business this year, he is free to use any clubs he wants. He used Nike irons and wedges at the tournament. He used a TaylorMade driver and woods. However, it has always been his putting that has made him a winner. And thanks to that putter, he took a 248 spot jump to 650th in the latest world golf rankings. He is the most polarizing person in golf and maybe in sports. Whether he is back or not remains to be seen.