Watching from the sidelines is not for Tiger Woods. While he wouldn’t trade anything for the Ryder Cup experience as US vice-captain, not being able to practice that week in Hazeltine hit hard.
“We had the perfect range, the most perfect putting green but we weren’t allowed to hit balls as captains.” The comeback had to happen anyway, and perhaps it was the feeling of being denied on the driving range that made him commit to the PGA Tour’s season opener in October.
There was reason to believe he could pull it off at the Safeway Open. “I’ve played and won tournaments hitting less shots,” he said. That was one aspect, the other was everything had to come together. He had to know the golf course too, and in this case Silverado hadn’t been played since college.
A call was taken to go slow and while it “killed him” as a competitive athlete to push back the comeback to the Hero World Challenge, Tiger can now say it was a smart move. “I’d waited 15 months, what’s another couple more months. It got me stronger and my practice schedule up.”
This week was likened to his return to competition following father (Earl Woods) passing away in 2006. “I didn’t find the flow of the round until about the fifth or sixth hole and by then I was well over-par and that hurt.”
Tiger was keen to get going quickly at the Championship Golf Course on Thursday, and he did with the tee shot on the second. This matters whenever he’s returned from a layoff, and going low was pleasing. Four-under after eight holes and tied for the lead.
Bereft of issues with stamina, the going couldn’t have been better till “silly mistakes” on the par-5s, holes he should have “torn apart”, made him lose momentum.
This was addressed on Friday as he birdied the 9th and 11th. Not only were the par-5s negotiated well, the flawless 65 could be attributed to the kick from the second shot on the 1st.
Tiger couldn’t help but gush at the shot of the day. “I bombed the tee shot and had just 80 yards to the hole (for birdie).” Then, there were the crucial par saves with long putts that brought on the famous fist pump.
Six shots off the lead, Tiger knows there is work to be done with the wind expected to pump up on Saturday.
After four knee and three back surgeries, he can’t do what he used to, be it the workout schedule or bringing about changes to the swing to protect himself. But when the intent is “not to drop a shot and lose momentum”, another big one could be in the offing.
132: Dustin Johnson (66, 66); Hideki Matsuyama (65, 67)
134: Matt Kuchar (67, 67); Louis Oosthuizen (67, 67)
135: Bubba Watson (72, 63)
136: Brandt Snedeker (72, 64)
Tiger Woods at T9 with 138 (73, 65)