Grading the Tiger Woods comeback
June 27, 2018
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
Tiger Woods' top 5 shots of 2017-18 season
BETHESDA, Md. – Tiger Woods has not won in five years. He’s let a few chances slip recently. But you can’t call his latest comeback anything but a success when you remember where he’s come from.
It’s now almost seven months since Woods returned from his spinal fusion surgery in the Bahamas. Prior to that there was a significant worry he might never play on the TOUR again.
There was even some concern he might not be fully functional physically, hampering his quality of life with his kids given it was a fourth back surgery in a short space of time.
But despite this some are questioning the 79-time winners efforts on occasions this season. They want more.
The level of expectation on him to win is abnormally high – but to be fair it is a standard set by Woods’ own dominance.
It is hard not to remember the old days where he’d win around 30 percent of the tournaments he entered and contend in all of the others.
And as such the critique on Woods is higher than anyone else. Whether it is delving into his putting stats of late or paying more scrutiny on his swing… we all want to know when he will win and why he hasn’t.
He has played 10 events (plus the Hero World Challenge where he was T9) this season.
In those he’s made eight cuts and was inside the top 12 four times including a runner up finish at the Valspar Championship and a T5 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard.
He sits a credible 61st in the FedExCup.
His stats show some impressive signs.
Woods is fourth on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Approach-the-Green and Strokes Gained: Around-the-Green. He’s fifth in Strokes Gained: Tee-to-Green and ninth in Strokes Gained: Total.
His scoring average of 70.031 is 20th on TOUR and despite his fused back he averages 304.8 yards off the tee to be ranked 26th in driving distance.
Driving accuracy (184th) and Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee (123rd) may be a concern but they have notoriously been that way, even at his best.
And his putting has been up and down. But he’s 89th on TOUR in Strokes Gained: Putting.
So what do those who are around him most think of his return to competitive golf. Are they impressed or not?
We asked some of his peers and some of the journalists who have covered Woods for decades to grade his efforts.
RICKIE FOWLER – 4 PGA TOUR wins including a PLAYERS Championship
“I'm giving him a solid A. A‑plus would have needed a win. No one has more pressure, attention and people around him than he does, so I think he's done a great job. He was away from competitive golf for so long, it's not like you just come right back out and go win a golf tournament. But it's Tiger, it wouldn't have surprised me. It's been fun to see him get back in the mix at some events, show his face. The run he made at THE PLAYERS, it's great for the game. We all enjoy having him out. It's only better for us, it's only better for the sport, for the fans, media, TV. I think he's done a great job because he's getting older, he's not starting his career. It would be great if he can extend his career as long as possible. He knows how to win, so I'm not worried about him by any means.”
GEOFF OGILVY – 8 PGA TOUR wins including a U.S. Open and 3 WGC’s
“It’s an A from where he was in October. Definitely an A. Anyone who expected him to even contend – that was a far-fetched fantasy really back then. After the Bahamas, it was cool, but we were still thinking … we’ve seen this 12 months ago. But after Tampa and Bay Hill he was legitimately in the Masters conversation. It hasn’t really gone up since then but it is still very impressive. His swing looks better with every week he plays and he’s smiling out there and looks like he’s enjoying himself. A win would take it to A+ but it is definitely an A.”
JIMMY WALKER – 6 PGA TOUR wins including a PGA Championship
“I give it an A+. I didn’t think he was going to golf ever again. For a while he couldn’t play more than 18 holes without crapping out. That he is even playing after all the back and knee surgeries is huge. I say A+ to the guy for being out here grinding. No one is under more scrutiny than him and he gets a lot of criticism because everyone wants Tiger to be Tiger again but I think a part of him has to be just happy he’s out here. It’s only a matter of time before something happens and he wins again."
BILL HAAS – 6 PGA TOUR wins and a FedExCup title
“If I am a harsh critic I think it’s a B+ because I think he would disagree with an A. He wants to win. The only reason it is not an A is because the student would not agree with it. But at the same time I am really impressed. The amount of surgeries he has had, the amount of media attention … every swing he takes is under a microscope and he still is able to get top-10s, almost win Tampa and compete often. He’s having a way better year than I am having and I’ve played 18 events and he’s played 10 so with all that said he needs a good grade."
ANIRBAN LAHIRI – 2015 and 2017 Presidents Cup player.
“I’d say it is an A given the previous numerous comebacks. This is a proper comeback. He’s looking healthy, people are not speculating if he is going to pull out this week, they are speculating if he’s going to win this week. That’s a huge difference right there. I think he is playing well, he looks more and more comfortable. Everybody thinks he is pretty close to being at his best again so it’s only waiting for a win to be an A+."
MARC LEISHMAN – 3 PGA TOUR wins, 2 Presidents Cups
“I’ll say B+. Not an A because he hasn’t won yet but it is definitely better than average. He’s had chances to win and his body has held up really well. I don’t think he’d give himself and A but I don’t think it’s far away from him getting to that point. It’s been very impressive. Everyone is happy he is back. The crowds are happy, the players are happy, the TOUR is a better place when he is out there playing.”
Tiger Woods chips in and gives lucky fan the ball at Memorial
MIKE McALLISTER – PGATOUR.COM
“Do you grade on the regular curve or the Tiger curve? If it’s regular, then it’s got to be an A. A couple of top-10s and some encouraging statistics from tee to green exceeds our skeptical expectations. But if it’s the Tiger curve … well, probably a B, maybe even a C, since he hasn’t won yet. I suspect that’s the only way he will judge whether his comeback is successful or not.”
BOB HARIG – ESPN.com
“I would call it a B+. Simply because there was no guarantee that he would be able to play a schedule at all and that he would have anywhere near the skills that he still has. The results are a bonus. None of us should have really been focused on the results all year but of course when he started to do well the expectations rose. When you step away from that, to have played 10 tournaments, to make eight cuts and have four top 12s. that’s pretty good.”
SEAN MARTIN – PGATOUR.COM
“B+. If you'd asked me just eight months ago, I would've been amazed just to see him play a normal schedule. But how quickly opinions can change when it comes to Tiger. After his impressive play in the Florida Swing, now we're a bit surprised that he hasn't won yet. Woods has the ability to win again but it looks like he still has some nerves down the stretch. Then again, who doesn't? Those will lessen with time. Woods is ninth in Strokes Gained: Total, so by that metric he's one of the best players on TOUR. Now he just needs to regain confidence in his ability to close it out. That takes time when you've barely played, let alone won, in five years.”
STEVE DIMEGLIO – USA TODAY
“B-. No one knew what to expect and I think he has exceeded those expectations. When you haven’t played golf in two years – which is eons of time in this sport – you just can’t come back easily. Yet he has been in contention to win four times this year. I’m at the point where I’d like to see him get angrier at himself for not performing better. At the Memorial it was right there for him but he couldn’t make putts. And it is the putting that drops him to a B-. That and the fact he didn’t play well at the Masters and U.S. Open. I’ve been out here 12 years and never seen him putt this bad. He is also doing things he never used to do. Granted he is older, he has a new back, but we never saw him putt this bad. He is one of the greatest putters who ever lived.”
CAMERON MORFIT – PGATOUR.COM
“I'll give his comeback an A, considering how hobbled he was last year, when even casual golf with friends seemed far-fetched. He was a roll of the ball from forcing a playoff at the Valspar, which is pretty amazing, and he gave us a thrill at THE PLAYERS Championship and the Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard. He's often the best player in his threesome, and he's shown flashes of his former self. When you consider how he's been limited by his broken body, and how ready he's looked to actually winning again, I don't see how he gets anything less than top marks.”
REX HOGGARD – GOLFCHANNEL.com
“A-. He deserves that just for his ability to physically do the things he hasn’t been able to do the last few seasons. The minus is because he hasn’t won and that’s always the ultimate standard when we look at Tiger Woods. Overall he’s been much more productive than anyone, probably even Tiger, thought he was going to be. I think his expectations started lower than before but once he got the taste for it again I think they have risen.”
Shot of the Day
Tiger Woods' hole-out eagle for Shot of the Day
But perhaps the only grade that matters is from Woods himself.
He continues to try to balance realistic expectations with his will to win and his comeback season still has many more chapters to add.
“I'm not going to give you a letter grade on it, but I will say that I am blessed, thankful and basically (it’s) a gift to be able to play again,” Woods said.
“There was no guarantee I would ever play golf, forget the PGA TOUR. So to go from that to here - I didn't foresee that happening, I really didn't.
“To be able to build a golf swing around something that's never been done before, no one's had clubhead speeds as what I've had on the TOUR this year with a lower back fusion. These are things that I didn't know I could do and all of a sudden I'm doing it. I'm competing, I'm playing, and I'm having just a great time doing it.”
Woods added it was after his performances in Florida that his expectations began to really raise back up again and was “when I knew I had something.”
He really wants to compete, but not at the detriment of being smart.
At 82nd in the world rankings Woods needs some big results to move into the top 50 to qualify for the World Golf Championships – Bridgestone Invitational – an event he’s won eight times at Firestone Country Club.
He must do so here this week and in the Open Championship – his only slated starts before the cut off.
“I have to really try and remind myself that what I'm coming back from the injury that I've had and the procedure that I've had. I don't want to play too much, but I need to play enough,” Woods said.
“I've got a game now that can play, so it's a matter of pacing myself through here, the Open, maybe Bridgestone, and then you've got the PGA and the Playoffs are right there with the Ryder Cup on the back side, so that's a lot of golf coming up in the future.
“Hopefully I can pace myself, get into the events and make sure I stay strong enough and fresh enough to play quite a few tournaments.”
If he is able to grab a win and be a significant factor in the FedExCup Playoffs you won’t be able to grade the comeback high enough.