By Darby Brown-Kuhn
The wait is finally over. After 466 days since he last played on tour, Tiger Woods returned to competition at the Hero World Challenge and answered any questions about the state of his game. Long story short, the man still has enough talent to win on the PGA Tour.
Even though Woods played against just 17 other golfers during the weekend, a tournament he’s hosted since 1999, his performance was far better than expected. Considering he’s still shaking off rust, this could be a harbinger of better things to come for the 14-time major winner.
Three takeaways from Woods’ debut.
- His swing looks much better
This has been the main concern for Woods, could he find a swing that wouldn’t be physically taxing on his back and left knee. Over the last two years, he and swing consultant Chris Como have worked on developing that swing and last week showed promising results. While his swing isn’t as dynamic as it was in 2000, Woods can still generate an impressive amount of power. He appeared more relaxed and his driver swing had much better balance and tempo than in 2015. Granted, Woods had plenty of time to practice at his home in Jupiter Island, Florida but some of the shots he hit over the weekend were reminiscent of ones he hit during his prime. Look at this shot he hit on hole 12, a 210-yard par-3.
- The iron game is dialed in
Woods has always been one of the better iron players on tour and his ball-striking skills were again on display last week. On multiple holes, Woods was able to overcome poor drives by hitting iron shots next to or on the green to save par. Entering Sunday, he was the lowest scorer on par-3’s, a strong indicator of his accuracy with those clubs. Although he occasionally struggled with approach shots with short irons, something that will likely improve with more reps, Woods iron game is already in great shape. This element of his game will be the base which will allow him to remain competitive in tournaments at this point in his career. Considering he hasn’t played professionally in over a year and is still shaking off cobwebs, this is a great sign going forward.
- He can still catch fire
Anyone who saw Woods in the second day of the tournament likely had butterflies in his stomach. Everything was clicking: his drives were hitting fairways, his approach shots were hitting the greens and his putter bailed him out of dicey spots when needed. Woods held a clinic that day, shooting a 65 with no dropped shots, and the magic carried over for a portion of his third round where he birdied five of his first seven holes including this shot from a green side bunker on the fifth hole.
Hot streaks like this were almost expected from Woods when he was in his prime, but he still has the tools to get into that zone. He had the second most birdies in the entire field, only tournament winner Hideki Matsuyama had more.
While he melted down the stretch on Sunday, easily attributable to rust and lack of conditioning, Woods showed he still has the ability to dominate the game.
After all, he’s one of the best green readers in golfing history and his short game, when dialed in, can get him par saves and the occasional birdie seemingly on command. Couple that with his superb iron game and incredible golf IQ, and it’s easy to see why the golfing world is giddy about his four-under score for the tournament.
It’s too early to tell after one tournament, but Woods’ progress to this point is astounding and with him getting into golfing shape the expectations of him winning again have finally become realistic.
This means Sam Snead’s all-time PGA Tour record of 82 wins is in reach, Woods has 79, and the chances for a 15th major are in play.
The game’s greatest active player appears to be back on track and the golfing world is anxious to see if he can make one more run in the twilight of his career. And from the looks of things, he’s headed in the right direction.