So, what do we make of Tiger Woods? Is he back, can he win again? Five weeks to you know what down Magnolia Lane and some of the hype is already making him one of the favourites to don another Green Jacket.
The latest round of hyperbole is based on Tiger’s 12th place finish on level par at the Honda Classic, where for a time he edged into contention before the Bear Trap snared another victim. The great one wasn’t alone in losing his way coming down the stretch at Palm Beach Gardens. Rory McIlroy suffered a triple and quadruple bogey at the 17th to finish his week tied 59th, nine behind Woods and 17 shots off the winning total.
Whatever your take on Tiger, his every move captures the imagination. There is no other player in the game with such a draw. McIlroy in his pomp has an X-factor, but we’re not getting to see the Holywood star in full throttle at the moment.
This Tiger comeback feels different. The 14-time Major winner teed it up two weeks on the spin. Although the first outing was a missed cut, the graph was ever upwards and progressive. Sure, there were mistakes on display in Florida but there was plenty of good stuff to give reason for genuine optimism.
The tell-tale signs were there. His speed is back, he’s holing putts with aplomb and his short game is as tight as ever.
Let’s indulge in a quick, binary exercise for a moment and compare some of McIlroy’s stats with Tiger’s last week. Woods made 13 birdies compared to McIlroy’s 12. He had seven bogeys and three doubles against McIlroy’s 10 bogeys, two doubles, a triple and one quadruple.
Woods was tied 10th in Greens in Regulation, McIlroy was tied 31st. McIlroy edged the Putts Per Greens in Regulation (14th, 1.733), Woods was 28th (1.771). Woods was third in driving distance (319.1 yards) with McIlroy fourth (316.6 yards). He also edged McIlroy in driving accuracy, tied 45th (58.93%) compared to tied 70th (50%.)
All just numbers and nothing scientific but they are markers, and Woods is not far off the mark. He’s competitive again. And that’s the difference, so long as he stays fit Woods can now be viewed through the prism of competition as opposed to a flawed, derailed former champion attempting another comeback from injury.
“Each time out, I’m getting better…I made a big leap this week because I really hit it well. I was able to control it, which wasn’t easy to do in this wind,” said Woods after the Honda Classic.
But surely the most encouraging assessment from golf’s original gym bunny was his desire to get straight back to the sweatshop. Not so long ago that would have been unthinkable.
“The body feels good, I just need to keep it feeling good. That’s why I need to get back into the gym and keep it strong.”
Telling words and one of the key factors that makes this comeback different. Stay fit and could we really see this most predatory Tiger slip into another Green Jacket in a few weeks’ time?