In his most recent return from injury, much about Tiger Woods hadn’t changed. There was still the classic Nike swoosh and “TW” all over his gear. He carried himself like the champion he is, and the fans followed en masse. More interesting, however, is what did change.
I’m not talking about a new sponsor, MusclePharm, on his bag, although that has plenty of people on the Internet making the usual witty remarks. I’m not even talking about the fact that Woods missed the cut by four strokes, only the tenth time since he joined the PGA Tour in 1997 that has happened. No, what was most shocking and different is that Woods seemed, dare I say, almost okay with it.
For most athletes, that shouldn’t seem so crazy. Woods is just over three months removed from back surgery, and apparently wasn’t even hitting full shots until just a few weeks ago. In his post-round media sessions, Woods remarked that he was “encouraged” by what happened at Congressional Country Club.
He’s 38 years old and coming to grips with the wear and tear his body has taken over a lifetime of world-class golf. For anybody besides Woods, that would be understandable. But it begs the question, where does he go from here?
As of now, he isn’t scheduled to play again until the Open Championship in three weeks. Will he really have enough to build on from just two rounds of tournament golf since early March? Forgive me for what may be tantamount to golf blasphemy, but five or ten years ago, I wouldn’t even question it. These days, as the gap between Tiger and “everybody else” gets smaller and smaller, I don’t know.
I still believe that Tiger has everything it takes to win major championships. When he’s on his game, to me, there’s still not a single player who is legitimately better. The fact is, though, that he hasn’t been that guy consistently enough. As encouraging as it is to see Tiger healthy, even if he missed a cut at what was essentially a rehab assignment, nothing compares to actual tournament golf.
Three weeks of rest and practice is a long time, but there’s no replacement for real competition. Woods can probably play another five or ten years, but what matters the most is what happens right now as he attempts to keep up with Jack Nicklaus‘s major pace. Does he have enough in the tank to complete one of the best comebacks in recent memory?