Tiger Woods returned to action in November and finished tied for ninth in a field of 18 players. The television ratings were up 29 percent compared to last year’s event.
This was Woods’s first tournament in 301 days. He had spinal fusion surgery on his back last April, his fourth back surgery.
His most recent tournament, Jan. 25 at Torrey Pines (where he has won eight times), showed us a lot about his determination. He finished with no pain, a great short game and good putting. He needs to clean up his driver, having hit only 17 of 54 fairways (30 percent).
Woods had to “grind” the entire tournament, having to two-putt from 90 feet on Friday just to make the cut. He finished tied for the number 23 spot out of a 156-player field, beating such players as Phil Mickelson and Jon Rahm.
Woods turned professional 22 years ago. Because of him, the purses increased dramatically. Woods, who celebrated his 42nd birthday in December, has 79 career PGA tour titles and 14 major championships.
It’s often been said that every golfer on the PGA tour owes Woods a “thank you” for what he did to increase the popularity of the tour. Prior to 1996, only 10 golfers had broken the $7 million mark in career earnings. Today, 218 golfers have earned at least that much in their careers.
Woods changed the look of professional golf. Suddenly tour players were getting in shape, eating right, going to fitness vans during the tournaments and using sports psychologists. Because of him many young athletes became interested in golf instead of contact sports.
Whether Woods plays well or poorly, his comeback will be the story at each tournament he enters. It is going to be great for the young competitors to play in a tournament with him, the player they have always idolized.
“When Tiger is in an event, things are different. There is so much more electricity in the air. A lot more fans. You can feel that vibe,” said Wesley Bryan, winner of the 2017 RBC Heritage tournament. “It will be exciting for all the young guys to get to see him play.”
When asked how many tournaments he plans to play in 2018, Woods was vague with his answer. “I am very optimistic about 2018 and looking forward to great things … I will play enough, but not too much.”
Up next for him is the Riviera Country Club in California on Feb. 12 and then the Arnold Palmer Classic on March 15, another tournament that he has won eight times. He wants to prepare for the Masters in April, which he has won four times.
I know that I will be watching each tournament Woods plays in to see if he truly is making a comeback. It would be great for the game of golf.
Dr. Jean Harris is an LPGA Master Professional and teaches at local courses. firstname.lastname@example.org; www. golfdoctorjean.com