Update 10/11: This story was filed prior to Tiger Woods withdrawing from the tournament
Last week, Tiger Woods formally committed to coming back to the Tour and play the Safeway Open (cue Mase’s Welcome Back) but a lot has changed since he last left us. The Tour has cultivated, with the help of Woods, a new group of headliners. Jordan Spieth, Rory McIroy, Jason Day and others have jumped to the forefront of tournament and network promotion, endorsements and fan adulation. Singularly, none of them have the impact of Tiger Woods but as a group they’ve done just fan.
Also the play on the course has changed. When Tiger was dominant, he did things other golfers couldn’t do but that’s no longer the case. The PGA Tour is now full of golfers who can win in diverse ways. Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, and Bubba Watson can reduce certain courses to rubble with their length. Jordan Spieth hits the ball long enough but his short game and out of this world putting has catapulted him to 4th in the Official World Golf Rankings and then you still have guys like Zach Johnson “The Wizard of Wedges”, Henrik Stenson, and a legion of others who, not only win on both tours but also win majors.
The return of Tiger doesn’t signal the saving of the PGA Tour. The Tour isn’t in need of saving. It doesn’t even rank up there with Michael Jordan’s first return to the NBA. What it does is give him a chance to pursue Jack’s record even though, Snead’s record of wins on Tour is more realistic. He also has another chance to continue to remake his image after his off the course problems consumed his life and every headline about him.
This return has more questions that answers. As usual, we hear the stories on how he’s “striping” the ball better than ever but will that translate to the modern golf set ups? Also, can he compete at a high level from Thursday to Sunday against the toughest fields in PGA history? Will he be able to stay healthy enough to warrant being taken seriously? Will he get a boost like Sergio Garcia did after serving as Vice Captain of the 2010 European Ryder Cup team? All our question that 10-15 years ago, we couldn’t imagine asking about Tiger Woods.
At best, Tiger Woods could end up winning a major or two by pulling off a Sugar Ray Leonard versus Marvin Hagler type performance. A performance that makes you say “I didn’t know he still had that in him”. At worst, he’ll be just another golfer on tour that fans will get excited about if he’s on the leaderboard whether he’s truly credible weekend challenger or not.
For the Safeway Open to have both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in their tournament is a win for them and the Tour’s wrap around schedule. Getting big names during, what used to be vacation time for big named players, is what the PGA Tour wanted when they changed the Fall Series from guys trying to save their Tour cards to guys wanting to get a points jump on the competition.
So welcome back Tiger. We missed you but please try to fit in and play nice with others… a lot of things have changed since you left.
Marcus “Mook” Washington is the host of Making The Cut. Follow Mook on Twitter: @mtcwithmook and IG: MTCWithMook