Commentary: Tiger Woods' latest return will be measured by his performance
Tiger Woods still has more majors than comebacks.
But the gap is narrowing.
Woods said he will return to competition at the Hero World Challenge the week after Thanksgiving — an 18-man field in the Bahamas with no cut — just over seven months after fusion surgery. That was his fourth back surgery in a little more than two years, and that alone should be enough to temper expectations.
This will be the 10th time Woods has returned from an unscheduled break of two months or more, eight of them since winning his 14th major at the 2008 U.S. Open. And it will be the fifth time he returns since his last victory in August 2013 at the Bridgestone Invitational.
Should it be cause for celebration?
A popular phrase in recent years is that golf needs Woods, but this is only true as it relates to his performance. Otherwise, it becomes a nostalgia tour, and the question facing Woods is whether he can handle being a ceremonial golfer. If that's what this is about, there would be no need for him to play.
This will be the second consecutive year Woods makes a celebrated comeback from back surgery in the Bahamas.
He went 15 months and two microdiscectomy surgeries when he played the Hero World Challenge last year and finished 15th against a field of 18 (Justin Rose withdrew after the opening round with back pain). Woods made 24 birdies that week but finished 4-under par, 14 shots behind winner Hideki Matsuyama.
He was held to a different standard. He was measured by the freedom of his swing more than his score in relation to the field. That began to change when he missed the cut at Torrey Pines in his first start against a full field then flew to Dubai and lasted one round — a 77 — before withdrawing the next day because of back spasms.
Different about this return is the nature of the surgery, which carried a higher risk and was geared more toward his quality of life.
Golf is a bonus.
Woods made headlines at the Presidents Cup during a news conference for assistant captains when he was asked if he could see a scenario where he would not return to competition.
“Yeah, definitely,” he responded. “I don't know what my future holds for me. As I've told you guys, I'm hitting 60-yard shots.”
It was a leading question that was more about the uncertainty of his health than his desire to play, and the outlook changed quickly.
Within a week, he posted a slow-motion video of a full swing. Then another one of him hitting driver, a third video hitting a stinger with a long iron, and news amid this tease that doctors had cleared him to play and practice without restrictions.
The PGA Tour celebrated the announcement of Woods' return Tuesday with a tweet that said, “The fist pump is back.” For now, the only fist pump belongs to those who are eager to see him play because they were not sure they would get that chance again.
How long that lasts depends on Woods.
Doug Ferguson is the national golf writer for the Associated Press.