The Return Of Tiger Woods – PGA Golf @ Torrey Pines, Jan 26-29

Toothless Tiger or Roaring Return?

I’m not dead yet,” joked Tiger Woods to reporters on the driving range ahead of his comeback at the Bahamas Hero World Challenge in December. And while his game wasn’t alive enough to win on the Caribbean island, there were glimpses that the former world number one and unarguably the greatest player of his generation would be competitive again.

When Woods tees off on Thursday at Torrey Pines it will end a 522-day absence from official PGA Tour competition. Even for a man who has pretty much lived his entire life in the full beam of the media glare, the pressure to perform will be immense.

The questions are many. After so many operations on his body, primarily on his back, does he still have the physicality to compete at the top? From a psychological point of view is he mentally tough enough after such a long time out, and does he have the hunger that helped propel him to the top? And is his game good enough or has the sport moved on, with Messrs McIlroy, Spieth, Day etc. elevating it to a new level.

The bookmakers, of course, are always a good barometer of what any sportsman might achieve on any given week. But one odds compiler I spoke to admitted any figure chalked up next to Woods’ name is based more on feel and less on fact.

That’s an obvious statement, I guess, given we’ve only seen Tiger tee it up once in public since finishing tenth at the Wyndham Championship in August of 2015. That was in the Bahamas, when we saw a little of the old Woods with a second round 65, but too much of the misfiring player that hasn’t won since August 2013, as he finished 15th of the 18 golfers who competed in Nassau.

Intriguing Markets

Still, that hasn’t stopped the Grosvenor Casinos Sportsbook coming up with some intriguing and tempting markets when it comes to Woods return to the fairways, with some prices just too good to miss.

The 14-time Major champion is scheduled to play four tournaments over the course of the next five weeks, starting with the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, then heading to the Middle East tee it up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, before returning Stateside to peg it at the Genesis Open and the Honda Classic. To win any of the four Woods is priced at 33/10, to finish in the top five of any 5/4, the top ten 5/9, while to make the make the cut in all four he can be backed at 1/5.

Dial back a decade and he’d be a shoe-in for all four. Remember, he used to be sent off as short as 4/5 just to win at Torrey Pines, a venue has can boast seven tour victories at. Woods can also boast two Dubai Desert Classic titles.

Woods could easily impress at Torrey Pines, although it’s by no means a given with the rough ahead of this week’s event described as “thick and juicy”. If it does play easy, then the 2/1 to post a round of 64 in any of the four tournaments entered could smack of value – but remember the North Course, which all professionals play once (they tackle the South Course three times), has been redesigned so might not be the pushover it once was.

Scared Of The Woods?

His jaunt to Dubai could also pay dividends against a European Tour field that might still suffer from the fear factor Tiger used to induce on all of world golf, but it is his return to America where he could suffer.

The Genesis Open is staged at Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, a venue where even in his pomp, for some reason, he just wasn’t successful. In eight attempts, he’s never won there – a rarity given his dominance over the years – while the last score he posted at the California layout was a 74 back in 2006. Woods has never bothered to return since.

On a tough track that demands much from your game it could be tempting to back the 11/2 that Woods shoots 80 or higher in any round over his next four starts (something he managed in three times in five events in 2015).

Meanwhile, the Champion course at PGA National is never one to take lightly, and Woods experiences there have be few and inconsistent – three starts, a runner-up finish, a tie for 37th and a withdrawal.

It’s also worth pointing out that he hasn’t played on the weekend in four events in succession since autumn 2013.

Woods reshaped the modern game, of that there’s no doubt.

And he made those that backed him week in week out an awful lot of money.

Don’t forget he once won nine of 12 starts in a period between August 2007 and June 2008, 10 of 14 between May 1999 and February 2000, plus five on the spin in 2006.

His triumphs were many, and, as the man said himself, news of his demise is probably a little premature. But while there would be nothing better for punters to see Tiger back to his old relentless self, for now the call might be to side against the golfer they all still want to beat, despite all those days away from the fairways.

(image by Keith Allison)