LOS ANGELES — Thousands gather along the ropes, waiting and hoping to see what was once taken for granted. Tiger Woods is back.
Not like last year, though. He’s really back this time. The murmurs and groans that so often followed Woods’ shots in his previous comeback attempts have turned back into those majestic roars that were once seemingly ubiquitous at any tournament he was in. The pained looks, grimaces and gingerly pace Woods walked with for the past two years has been replaced by that familiar strut.
Fans showed up at the Genesis Open at Riviera wanting confirmation that this was different, and while Woods failed to make it to the weekend in Los Angeles, it was a very different missed cut than the one a year ago at Torrey Pines. There were still clearly some kinks to be worked out. The long game still needs work, as he fought the dreaded drill sergeant miss. “Left, right, left right.”
However, the touch is back in the short game. The old Scotty Cameron putter is back in the bag and looks like it hasn’t gathered any rust since it was last in play for a full season in 2010. Most importantly, though, his confidence is growing.
We’ve seen the Tiger Woods comeback story many times before, and in many different forms. He’s come back from swing changes, knee and Achilles injuries, personal drama and more. And after three back surgeries and at 42 years old, there were many who thought the greatest golfer of the past 30 years (and arguably ever) would never truly return.
Even Woods began to question whether a return to the course was in the cards, noting after his most recent back surgery, a spinal fusion, his main goal was to be able to be pain free while watching his kids grow up. However, as 2017 pressed on, Woods began posting clips of him working on his game. First with half shots, then full swings with his TGR irons and eventually video of him bombing his TaylorMade driver. The comeback was officially on, and it was simply a matter of “when” not “if” we’d see Woods back on the course.
The questions lingered. We’d seen this act play out one year ago to ultimately disastrous results. He showed up at his own tournament, the 18-player Hero World Challenge for the second straight year, but unlike in 2016 his swing looked fluid and his confidence in his body and his simplified swing were much higher. Two months later at Torrey Pines, Woods made his first cut and earned his first top 25 finish in two and a half years.
That result was enough to kick Tiger-mania back into full gear. Fans who had grown wary of his comebacks needed only that one tournament to fully buy back in. It’s almost impossible not to. Few needed their arm twisted to be all-in on a Woods comeback, they just needed some signs of life. Tiger Woods is an icon. He’s the reason the majority of golf fans under the age of 40 are golf fans. He’s the rare golfer that transcended what can be at times a niche sport and brought it to the masses, making golf at once cool and athletic. He’s why golfers now look like athletes rather than looking your dads friends. He’s why courses are longer, technology is better and golfs arms race heated up to where it is now.