Q. Tiger, have you walked 72 holes four days in a row?
TIGER WOODS: No.
Q. And do you ever see —
TIGER WOODS: This year?
TIGER WOODS: No.
A tearful Tiger Woods trudged over the Swilcan Bridge – before they mucked it up! – on a steamy Friday afternoon at St Andrews last July as a significantly younger and healthier Rory McIlroy, about 60 yards away, bounced off the first tee adjacent to the 18th green and tipped the cap in the direction of the 15-time major champion.
It signified not so much a changing of the guard but a realisation that Tiger just couldn’t do what he used to do and is trying desperately hard not to exit stage left as the younger, and fresher crop overtake him.
Tiger Woods won two Open Championships at St Andrews, a course he has long referred to as his favourite but on that day seven months ago at the Home of Golf, his grand return, his homecoming, turned into a mourning for what once was.
Rumours of retirement circled and while Woods didn’t entertain such notions, it was all but confirmed he would not contest for a Claret Jug on the Old Course again. St Andrews faces its own battle with technology, driving distances and time but while Woods can keep up with the youngins in two out of the three, he can’t beat time.
So desperate for the great man to recreate the comeback of 2018-2019, watching Woods stumble and hobble around for just nine grimacing rounds was tough, cruel and not good television. So often last year we heard of how amazing he looked on the Sunday/Monday before a major championship only for his physical condition to gradually deteriorate as tee off time on Thursday loomed.
Does he alter his preparations for tournaments? Is there a way he can prepare himself on tournament weeks to be peaking for Thursday instead of apparently wearing himself out to the point he is running on empty by shot one of round one? He’s Tiger f***ing Woods. If anyone can rock up on a Wednesday, hit some balls and go out for 72 holes and win, he can.
It was hard not to feel overcome by emotion watching him drag his way up the hill on the 18th on day one of the Masters, but that was the highlight of a torrid year where he was unnecessarily paraded on television screens despite being in excruciating pain.
Now we arrive at Riviera, the place where it all went wrong as far as his golf game goes, mixed with a tinge of luck having remarkably survived a situation that could have been fatal.
What can Tiger Woods produce in 2023?
At a minimum, Tiger will play the four major championships while he also plans to tee it up in a limited number of PGA Tour events and while many of us are none the wiser as to what the final number will be, we do know number one is The Genesis Invitational which has now been elevated in everything including name.
Keen to play down expectations, the frenzy has already begun. Videos of this picture perfect, smooth tempo swing have been circling on social media and played on repeat. Woods’ swing might look pretty, but that was Tuesday with his toughest test coming between golf shots on Thursday.
Always adamant he would not use a golf cart during PGA Tour rounds, Woods will have to tackle the severe elevation changes that Riviera provides and you can almost guarantee along with Andrew Coltart waxing lyrical over how amazing it is that he is here to play given his condition, that he will wear the tyres bare over the joke of ‘carrying Woods up the hill on 18’.
As golf continues to twist this way and that in this civil war, Tiger’s return is timely, and a healthier and competitive Tiger would be even better.
Any time Tiger tees it up is exciting. While Rory may be the pied piper for most of the season, when Tiger is in town, Rory lingers in the background playing the simple triangle as the rest follow in their droves.
Golf fans around the world will be looking forward to a healthier Tiger and his pre-tournament comments about playing to win will only get people salivating more and eager to get bums on couches on Thursday night.
Tiger’s return will come 24 hours after Netflix released a ‘Drive to Survive’ style golf documentary which is designed to get more people into the game.
Time will tell whether that works or if the market has already been bloated with similar behind the scenes docuseries that are all mundane and mediocre in quality and style, but what will always bring eyes to golf is Tiger Woods.