Think about this for a moment:
At what point – or how often Thursday – did you think about, check into or find a screen to watch what Tiger Woods was doing in his latest return to competitive golf?
It happened, didn’t it?
That’s who Tiger is, even after all the years and all the injuries and all the other things that have happened along his way. He has always made us care, even if some us cared about him in negative ways.
That’s why Thursday at the Hero World Challenge felt a little different. Tiger was back. He’s come back before but this time, at least in this early moment, it feels different.
There is an undercurrent of desperation because if having spinal fusion surgery can’t allow him to play golf at a competitive level then we’re left to contemplate what Woods was, not what he still can be.
But there’s a sense of hope, of optimism with this comeback and it was fueled by Woods’ first-round 3-under-par 69 in breezy conditions in the Bahamas.
That’s why some people took the day off from work to watch Woods play. Yes, some people played hooky because of Woods and bragged about it on radio shows and to their friends. That’s the kind of interest and devotion Woods has inspired through the years.
Thursday wasn’t one of those remember-where-you-were moments but it was hopeful and that’s what golf is ultimately about. It’s about the hope that today’s the day the putts will fall and the wind will be at your back.
After all those years of thrills and chills, we’ve become accustomed to being let down by Woods because his back or something else wouldn’t allow him to be who he was. He’ll never be the player who won the Tiger Slam and shredded the record book, but maybe he can have one final run to see what he can do.
The way he played Thursday at Albany was like a sigh of relief. He didn’t just get it around the course. Woods played well. He made a mess of a couple of par-5s and would like have a pitch shot or two over but overall the first round was a success.
Woods is just three strokes behind leader Tommy Fleetwood. While his ultimate goal is to win, Woods acknowledged that four rounds under par this week would be a success in his mind.
“It was not only nice to get the first round out of the way, but also I’m only three shots out of the lead. So to be able to put myself there after not playing for, is it 10 months or so, in the neighborhood of that, it was nice to feel the adrenaline out there,” Woods said.
Justin Thomas, the reigning PGA Tour player of the year, spent Thursday alongside Woods at Albany. What he saw was not unlike what he’s seen in a few practice rounds with Woods in South Florida.
“I truly felt like he was going to play well just from one round when we played and then a practice round here,” Thomas said. “It’s not like it’s a course where you have to be perfect, it’s pretty generous off the tees. Obviously it can get windy and some crosswinds, but I expected him to play well in terms of a number.
“And the rust, that’s different and you never know what’s going to happen there. But today definitely didn’t surprise me by any means.”