SAN DIEGO — As Roger Federer keeps piling up tennis Grand Slam trophies, Tiger Woods’ 2018 PGA Tour return established a sense he can win majors again.
“In that sport [Federer’s] very old, but in our sport, I’m only 42, that’s not that old,” Woods said the day of Federer’s 20th major and Woods’ final round 72 at Torrey Pines. “Davis won when he was in his 50s, Vijay did well all throughout his 40s, so it’s very possible out here for us.”
Little about Woods in the Farmers Insurance Open looked old. Sure, we saw some woeful driving by a legend’s standards, a record number of “feels” references and the old Tiger future schedule vagueness. But those standbys almost seemed like charming reminders of the old Big Cat in an otherwise wildly successful competitive golf return.
“After not playing for a couple years and coming out here on the Tour, playing, you know, a solid four days, I fought hard for these scores,” he said after a T-23 finish. “This was a lot of fight.”
With Woods battling his driver, massive galleries paying a hefty $55 a ticket got multiple up-close opportunities. When he reviews the week, Woods will undoubtedly see a 40 feet, 10 inches proximity-to-the-hole (T-52) on the 42 of 72 greens hit and confirm iron play was another issue in his 2018 debut.
But all of that was offset by solid short game play and post-fusion surgery back strength that allowed Woods to regularly extricate himself from miserable lies.
“A few times I had to jack up the speed and had no issues at all,” he said.
Nick Faldo, evaluating the week, was mesmerized by a few of the lashes Woods made.
“He’s pounded the back more than I thought he was ever going to have to do,” Faldo said.
‘Tigermania’ returns to Torrey Pines
Besides appearing fresh-faced, slimmed down and rejuvenated, the 14-time major winner’s disposition suggested he’s at ease with life and excited about the road ahead. Woods opened the week by downplaying expectations, a far and refreshing cry from the man who used to show up declaring a “W” as his only reason for living. Woods even declared April as his focus, a less-than-subtle suggestion that everything up to the Masters was merely spring training.
There was the almost-shocking amount of on-course chatter with playing partners, caddies and even media. As play backed up during Sunday’s final round, the laid-back Woods studied a group teeing off at the sixth and then walked a decent distance to chat up buddy and Golden State Warrior Andre Iguodala, who flew down to watch Sunday’s final round on his 34th birthday. There was once a time when talking to Woods on a Sunday was akin to remind a pitcher he’s throwing a no-hitter.
Woods even seemed to embrace multiple post-round interview obligations, a notable accomplishment given how tiresome the sessions grow when you’re hitting a career-low 17 of 56 fairways.
But Tiger’s return to the Farmers Insurance Open confirmed one thing hasn’t changed: like any good tiger, he’s still territorial. Woods could easily have turned up at the previous week’s CareerBuilder Challenge and had a much more leisurely time of things given Torrey Pines’ U.S. Open-like setup. But we know better. This is a man who will only haunt the places he knows.
As he maps out that run for a fifth Masters title and pursues other career-defining moments, you can pencil in this creature of habit for appearances at Riviera due to his foundation’s ties to southern California, the Honda Classic near his Florida home, and Bay Hill where he’s won eight times. It’s very possible he may just turn up at Augusta having played only four times. Few can picture him adding a Valspar in Tampa or Houston the week prior to Augusta.
Given this opening performance, a little progress at Riviera should bake in the light-schedule approach. Assuming, Faldo says, if the “sync” is there with Woods’ swing and driver play.
“It’ll be very interesting to see if he can put his finger on the things he needs to work on when he comes back to Riviera and give it another go,” Faldo said. “Go away, work on that sync and if he comes to Riviera showing improvements, then I think that’s a real positive sign.”
Longtime Woods worshippers have been split between those wanting a “reps” driven campaign versus a Hogan-like schedule where the Big Cat picks his familiar spots, preserves his body and makes majors the focus.
The latter seems a likely route after a debut where he finished just seven strokes out of the playoff. But the business side of professional golf, seeing huge crowds, renewed energy and big ratings bumps, will long to profit from his star power.
As Iguodala told the PGA Tour Snapchat crowd, “Tigermania is back.”
And so is Tiger’s back. Gwk