Tiger Woods will tee it up this week at the PGA Tour's season-opening Safeway Open, marking his first competitive start in 14 months after sitting out with injuries to his back. Expectations will be tempered, but what positives will we see from the 14-time major winner?
Our writers debate.
By REX HOGGARD
After 14 months of competitive inactivity and relative seclusion away from the PGA Tour, it’s probably best to keep expectations low for Tiger Woods when he returns next week.
Success, which for Woods has always been measured with victories and trophies, will be four tournament rounds with no setbacks or lingering health issues.
Although he tied for 10th place in his last start at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, it seems unlikely he’ll have a tournament-ready swing after multiple back procedures sidelined him for the 2015-16 season.
A more realistic goal for this week’s Safeway Open would be making the cut without reinjuring himself. Testing his back over five consecutive days (counting the pro-am round) and the physical demands of tournament play will be the ultimate gauge of success for Woods.
Woods has made a career out of exceeding expectations (see Open, U.S., 2008) and he certainly could surprise many by picking up where he left off and putting himself back in the hunt. But after so much time off this feels more like a rehab start than a competitive reboot.
With so many unknowns when it comes to Woods, from the state of his game to the ability of his body to withstand the rigors of tournament play, it’s best to keep expectations simple – play four days.
By WILL GRAY
One positive from Woods next week in Napa will simply be his presence. Make it through 36, or even 72, holes without incident and it should be considered a minor victory.
Sure, we’re setting the bar low, but it’s a great sign for Woods – and the game in general – that he feels ready to return to action.
The swing will need to work its way back into form, and in the early going the fears of an injury relapse will remain a tee shot or awkward step away. But after so often returning to the PGA Tour too early for his own good, Woods has been deliberate and conservative with this latest comeback.
A made cut should be considered a bonus, and a relaxed attitude would be a good sign for the other events on his proposed short-term schedule. But the key to this latest return is for Woods to remain healthy – not for weeks, but months and hopefully years at a time. The fact that he’s going to step to the first tee Thursday indicates that he believes that consistency is attainable, which is perhaps the biggest positive of all.
By RANDALL MELL
How about beating Phil Mickelson through the first two rounds?
No, it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. Woods should have more important goals in his return, like playing pain free, playing yip free and just hitting a bunch of shots that feel good. Woods’ mantra is he plays to win, but after all the time he has missed, expectations should be low. This comeback is about rebuilding confidence as much as it is rebuilding shot making. While making the cut would be nice, because this is a return to competition, Woods gains a small victory putting up a two-day score better than Mickelson’s, no matter what else happens. Yes, they’ll both say it doesn’t really matter how they fare against each other, but we know it does, just maybe not as much as it used to matter.