Over the last three years I have been writing that Tiger Woods will not be done with golf until he believes he is and while I’ve waffled back and forth on whether or not Tiger should save his body and enjoy the time he has left on this earth with his kids, or whether he should attempt a comeback not knowing if he could hold up through an entire season and be competitive on the PGA Tour, I’ve held out hope that he could return.
Sunday made it much more clear that Woods is not done with this sport he once dominated.
Woods started the final round just four strokes off the lead, which was enough to get my excitement going. After an early birdie on the fourth hole to get to three back, that excitement ramped up.
Then, on the par-5 sixth hole Tiger had 304 to the pin into the wind, and with a 3-wood in hand, he roped a shot in and gave chase, something we haven’t seen in ages. His ball stopped just off the front of the green and he two-putted for birdie. Now just two back, the charge was on!
A man who was once in the media for all the wrong reasons, who suffered through multiple back surgeries, horrible chipping woes, and failed comeback attempts before finally having his spine fused together, Tiger was once again, Tiger.
He’s looked rejuvenated all year. He nearly won earlier this season at the Valspar Championship, coming in second to Paul Casey, and he’s shown flashes in other events like the Arnold Palmer Invitational where he finished tied for fifth, the Players Championship when he fired off a seven-under 65 in the third round, and Quicken Loans National where he finished tied for fourth, but those are not major championships. That’s where Tiger became Tiger, and that’s where we all want to see him at the top of the leaderboard again.
It feels like it wasn’t long ago that we watched Tiger tee it up in Dubai, only to withdraw from the event after an opening round of 77. At the time, I wrote that it was a mistake for Tiger to make the trip to Dubai. He wasn’t ready and was rushing back.
In February of 2017, the odds on whether Tiger would retire or not before January of 2018 where a depressing +290 yes to -380 no. That doesn’t exactly get the juices going or spark any type of confidence in a real return to the sport.
But Tiger did it right, he took his time and slowly worked his way back, and after playing in the Hero World Challenge in December of 2017 it appeared like things were coming together for the 14-time major champion.
Fast forward to the back nine on Sunday. After his birdie at the sixth, Woods made four straight pars while the guys ahead of him on the leaderboard fumbled their way around the course allowing him to climb into sole possession of the lead.
Twitter was going crazy, and when Tiger Woods hit what was possibly the best shot we’ve seen from him in years out of a bunker on the 10th hole, everything seemed to be right with the world again.
That shot is nothing short of vintage Tiger. While he walked away with a par, the aggressive decision to go for the green, the ridiculously hard swing and recoil that followed it made Tiger look like he was the in fact the Tiger of old.
But, not everything is gravy just yet. Woods has been inconsistent with his driver all season, ranking 170th in driving accuracy on the PGA Tour, and on the 11th hole, although he hit an iron, he missed the fairway right and found the rough. He got lucky on his second shot after it hit a spectator and bounced back towards the green finally coming to rest just on the edge of the rough, but then got too cute on his chip and walked away with a double-bogey. Had Woods chosen to chip past the hole and minimize his damage with a bogey, who knows what we would have seen. He followed that up with another bogey and lost the lead. He never got it back.
Woods finished his Open Championship run at five-under, just three back of Molinari and one behind Rory McIlroy. His tie for sixth moved him up 21 spots to 50th in the world rankings, which is enough to get him into the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, his first WGC event in four years, where he has won eight times and given us several unforgettable moments.
After Tiger made his walk down the 18th fairway, giving the fans a tip of the cap along the way, and Francesco Molinari made his putt for birdie on the 72nd hole to win, the cameras panned over to Woods as he embraced his kids.
The man, who was once impossible to crack, has now proven to himself, his children, and everyone watching him, that not only is he human, but that he can still play this game at the highest level.
It’s hard not to get a little dusty when thinking that it’s been a decade since Woods last won a major championship, and his kids, Sam, born in 2007, too young to remember her dad winning the U.S. Open in 2008, and Charlie, born in 2009, have never seen their dad win a major.
“I told them I tried,” said Woods about embracing his kids after the final hole. “I know that they know how much this championship means to me and how much it feels good to be back playing again. It’s so special to have them aware because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career but they don’t remember any of them. For them to understand, what I was doing early in my career, the only thing they’ve seen are my struggles and the pain I was going through.”
On Sunday, at The Open, Woods nearly did just that and he did it with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy at the top of the leaderboard with him. The 42-year-old Woods has proven to everyone that he can still hang with the young guns on Tour. He can give them a run for their money on a Sunday in a major championship. He can ignite excitement from golf fans, both casual and those who follow the PGA Tour weekly.
Tiger Woods is not done with this game of golf. In fact, it seems like he’s just getting started, again.