We know this from two PGA Tour official starts: Tiger Woods’ fused back is fine and he’s having fun. That’s an overlooked victory given his inability to even handle a press conference at the Genesis Open a year ago.
As with this 2018 debut at Torrey Pines, Woods is demonstrating a strange mix of brilliance and inconsistency which, for now, is not dimming his spirit. For every birdie, heroic recovery or brilliant up-and-down this past week at Riviera Country Club, Woods threw in a clunker of an iron shot, a big tee shot miss and a silly wedge-shot mistake.
A year removed from wondering if he’d ever play again, his mere presence and a doubling in ticket sales delivered to L.A.’s historic PGA Tour stop should be pure gravy for the world of golf. Woods brings intangibles and buzz that only a few other legends have ever delivered, and despite a hefty $65 price at the gate, fans turned out in final-round-sized galleries for each his two starts.
Still, this is Woods and he could not have been pleased flying home Friday night, contemplating all the positives while trying to understand the sloppier shots.
Returning to the Genesis Open for the first time since 2006, Woods traversed Riviera in a fashion similar to when he made his professional debut here. He crushed the ball off the tee, on occasion blowing it past younger playing partners Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas.
“Depends on how much he pays me,” McIlroy joked. “No, no. Not really, we were just talking about a few different things, started talking about the driver, like that drive he hit on 17 was a little, like it didn’t spin enough so it sort of nose-dived to the right. Just talking about that sort of, yeah, technical stuff.”
As Woods heads to PGA National and its watery Bear Trap, his driving will get most of the attention, but similar iron-shot misses to those seen at Riviera will be exposed in far more dramatic fashion.
“I need to do some work there to make sure that I’m hitting the ball in the spots that I want to miss it in,” he said.
Translation: Or I’ll be donating balls to the lakes guarding PGA National’s greens.
Quibbling over all of these issues ignores what was most apparent in Woods’ constant interaction with young fans at Riviera and his quick turnaround commitment to this week’s Honda Classic: He looks like he’s enjoying his craft again.
“He loves the game,” McIlroy said. “There’s no bigger golf nerd in the world than Tiger Woods. He absolutely loves it.”
How long Woods will love it with such hot-and-cold moments remains uncertain. But in McIlroy’s mind, Woods will be very competitive soon.
“It’s just playing tournament rounds and all that sort of stuff. It’s not too far away,” McIlroy said.
Neither is the Masters, where Woods continues to point his game. But at least Woods is tuning up on tests of golf exposing what needs work. Here’s hoping the severity of these tests doesn’t erode his desire to get back to some semblance of the old Tiger Woods.