Playing his first round of competitive golf in 15 months, Tiger Woods carded a one-over 73 on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge from the Bahamas.
On paper, sure, Woods’ score is fairly mediocre. An above-par round is nothing to write home about if you are a professional golfer, and Woods’ back-9 40 featured two frustrating double bogeys (on 16 and 18) that ended his round on a sour note.
But in all, Woods’ first round in 15 months gave his fans plenty to feel good about for 2017.
His front nine, after all, was dynamite. He went on a nice little run of birdies, four in all and three in a row to put himself tied for the early lead. A front nine 33 was better than anyone would have expected, and it was devoid of too many major hiccups. His irons looked great throughout his day, and through 18 holes he only flubbed one chip — a noted improvement from some of the nervy short-game performances in the past.
There were plenty of positives. Here, for example, was his tee shot on the par-3 12th:
And here was a beautiful chip from the 5th:
That didn’t take long.
His club-twirl game was definitely a bit rusty:
But we did see a mini fist pump:
Of course, two double bogeys on the last three holes is not how you want to close out a round. And his woods and driver were erratic, often pushed left and off the fairway.
Here was that flubbed chip, which was flat-out bad:
Golf is hard.
In the end, you can look at Tiger’s performance on Thursday however you want. Glass half full, you can focus on the good during that front-9 and tell yourself he’s making progress, that he’s trending in the right direction for 2017. Or, you can focus on the bad, that he’s 40, that he was +5 in his final 10 holes, and that he’s in 17th place in a tournament with just 18 golfers.
But never once during his round did he look pained — either physically, or, as was increasingly common before his hiatus, mentally. He looked genuinely thrilled to be out there, and echoed that afterwards.
“To feel that adrenaline again and that rush of competing, that feels nice,” he said. “It’s been a long time.”
Tiger will probably never be the same, and who knows if he’ll ever win another major. But seeing his name briefly atop the leaderboard is unlike anything in golf, even though the sport has undoubtedly benefitted a surge of young talent in recent years.
Golf is more fun when Tiger is playing, as the cliche goes, and all things (and back surgeries) considered, an opening-round 73 ain’t too shabby.
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