Rude: Why it's surprising Woods is back this week

Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour at the 2014 Quicken Loans National at Congressional (shown here earlier this year before withdrawing at the Honda Classic).
Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour at the 2014 Quicken Loans National at Congressional (shown here earlier this year before withdrawing at the Honda Classic). ( Associated Press )

Monday, June 23, 2014

One common golf refrain over the years has gone something like this: Never be surprised by anything Tiger Woods does.

That mainly has applied to rare achievement, such as winning a U.S. Open by 15 strokes or another Open on a broken leg. The most recent case, though, has to do with his surprise announcement Friday that he will return to competition next week in the Quicken Loans National tournament at Congressional.

It’s a surprise, at least to this observer, for a few reasons.

One, he only recently started making full swings. Two, people in his camp on Wednesday seemed to be leveling when they said they were uncertain when he would come back from March 31 microdiscectomy surgery. One figured the odds of his playing the July 17-20 Open at 50-50.

Three, in making the announcement via Facebook, Woods said he will be a “bit rusty,” but wants to play his way back into “competitive shape.” That’s a departure from the modus operandi of the majority of his career, when he wouldn’t show up unless he was totally prepared and felt he could win.

Because he hasn’t hit full shots for long, it’s hard to know what to expect out of him at the Quicken Loans event, which benefits his foundation. But, then, never be surprised.

Mainly the announcement means competitive golf just got a strong B-12 shot. Woods has been golf’s most compelling figure since the day he turned professional in 1996. That doesn’t figure to change over the next several years as he tries to improve upon his 14 major championships, with Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 in mind.

It also means that, barring a setback, he will play the year’s final two majors. And they are at courses where he has won before: the Open at Royal Liverpool and the PGA Championship at Valhalla.

This much is certain: Win, lose or withdraw, all eyes will be on him, as usual.

It originally was expected that Woods would return in summer, which begins Saturday. Many, though, seemed to think the comeback wouldn’t start the first week of the calendar’s third season.

When last seen, he was playing in pain because of a pinched nerve in his back. Surgery took care of the discomfort. Expectations in his camp are that the operation won’t have a negative impact on his golf once he gets going.

“He’s on the exact path we had hoped for and is progressing well,” his agent, Mark Steinberg, had told me Wednesday. “He’s had zero setbacks and is progressing as we had anticipated. Doctors are allowing him to do more and more.”

If nothing else, Woods’ short game should be sharp from the start. He has been chipping and putting for a couple of months and has been hitting full sand-wedge shots for a couple of weeks.

Woods has not competed since March 9. He underwent the procedure three weeks later.

He has played only three PGA Tour events this season, with earnings of $86,919 and a best finish of T-25 at the WGC-Cadillac Championship.

Smart money, though, says those numbers will change dramatically and quickly. He might have been sidelined, but he has never forgotten how to play golf.

Oddly, Woods hasn’t won a major in more than six years, dating to June 2008. The drought has occurred during ages when golfers generally are in their prime. Now he’s 38 and, at least in terms of the Nicklaus chase, is trying to make up for lost time.

Should he somehow win five more majors after turning 38 and set the record, that arguably would be the greatest feat of a remarkable career that includes, among many jewels, four consecutive major titles.

So pull up a chair. We get to sit back and watch again.