Tiger Woods still polarizes. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Most like seeing a return from back surgery in the offing for Woods and seeing the 14-time major winner in action again. He’ll play Nov. 30-Dec. 3 at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
Plenty of others see Tiger’s latest social media teases and say it all looks like other comebacks that turned out to be smoke and mirrors, and mostly gave his endorsers something to chew on.
But this comeback seems different. Maybe because we know Woods finally underwent a higher-risk procedure from a different doctor in April. And we are pretty sure he’s ahead of the most optimistic schedules set out by doctor pundits who warned that the fusion surgery could permanently ruin his ability to swing a golf club.
Woods returns at his Hero World Challenge, where he has good vibes from his 2016 comeback bid and very little danger of experiencing pressure to perform. Woods has been seen playing social golf at Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla., and even at Los Angeles Country Club the day after attending World Series Game 2. Unlike in other comeback attempts, he has enlisted caddie Joe LaCava early in the game-restoration effort. That this comeback is not really in secret speaks, perhaps, to a new Woods.
The skeptics point out how much has happened since we saw him on a golf course. Much of the imagery released by the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s office was awful in a career that already had its share of embarrassing off-course moments. His haters will say a guilty plea to reckless driving and addiction issues need to be more thoroughly addressed with stronger apologies, stronger rehab signs and fewer Mr. Nice Guy social media posts hashtagging Star Wars.
But maybe Tiger is finally sober and humbled. Perhaps he will lose the debilitating skepticism that has always lent an odd edge to his human interactions. Maybe he will realize that most fans and media hope to see him healthy and finishing off his playing career in a way that brings joy for himself, his children and his fans.
For all of the humor to be found in golf’s task forces, assistant captaincy gear and other pomp delivered by Cup events, the team-room bonding experience has a funny way of impacting golf’s lone soldiers. Woods once seemed to loathe team events and now appears to be rejuvenated by participating in them. Even better, as the recent Presidents Cup highlighted, Woods was able to enjoy the role of mentoring, strategizing and joining an effort greater than himself.
That’s why I’m buying stock in Woods this time around. He’s not posting video of his swing on social media because he wants to sign a new endorsement contract. He appears to legitimately feel good about his body and place in the game. Woods is acting like someone excited to be getting back on the course.
I’m also buying because golf desperately needs to rekindle a longtime tradition of the game: older champions competing against new blood. We’ve been deprived of a generational showdown a la 1960 at Cherry Hills, where young gun Jack Nicklaus, superstar Arnold Palmer and legend Ben Hogan converged in a final-round showdown. Woods the historian knows that no matter how far the kids hit the ball today, the list of major venues in the next five years will still reward a wise and clever player.
Woods the sports fan also has to know that no matter how many skills he’s seen deteriorate, the game has a crazy way of letting wisdom and creativity excel. Perhaps we’ll get to see such a renaissance. Perhaps. Most of all, golf could even use some of the polarization that a Woods comeback brings. The kids are cool and everything, but the Big Cat brings something that no one else in golf delivers: buzz. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.