Curb your enthusiasm, Tiger Woods fans: This comeback will fizzle too

Acclaimed golf writer Shane Ryan looks ahead to yet another return for the American great…


Back in the summer of 2015, during the Open Championship at St. Andrews, I wrote a column titled “Tiger Woods is totally, completely, unequivocally, and utterly done.”

It was not a very fun piece to write, and in fact I felt like a bit of a downer. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a Tiger comeback? Who doesn’t want the game’s foremost icon to storm the world stage for one last, glorious hurrah?

The overwhelming majority of golf fans salivate at the idea, and there I was, the gloomy bearer of bad news. The piece made a lot of readers angry, and the emphatic tone didn’t help—his body, his game, and his psychological edge all belonged to history, I wrote. In burying a legend, I invoked the wrath of his zealots.

I would have liked Tiger to prove me wrong. I’d still like it, actually. But the bad news for the golf world is that nothing in the ensuing two years has proved me wrong.

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He missed the cut at St. Andrews that week, missed the cut at the PGA Championship, and had only “good” tournament at the Wyndham in late August, when he finished in a tie for tenth.

Then he had back surgery in September, missed all for majors in 2016 while recovering, tried to comeback in December and January, made it two tournaments before stopping because he wasn’t “tournament ready,” and had another back surgery in April 2017 that kept him out of every major yet again.

Now, Tiger Woods is making his latest comeback. The golf world is excited again.

There are rumours that he’s playing extremely well again, and that he’s pain-free.

These reports come from Brad Faxon, who played with Tiger, Dustin Johnson, and President Trump recently, and I’d be willing to bet a small fortune that Tiger’s agent had an enormous influence on everything Faxon wrote. (Per Faxon, Tiger’s even hitting the ball farther than Johnson—yeah right.)

Tiger will tee it up in the Hero World Challenge this weekend—his first tournament action in almost a year—and the eyes of the golf world will be on him. More importantly, the hopes of the golf world will be on him.

Which is why I need to issue a warning: Just like that July 2015 column, the message of this won’t be particularly upbeat. If you hate bad news, you may want to stop reading now.

Because here’s the truth—Tiger’s previous comebacks all followed the same exact formula, starting in 2014 after his first back surgery, with a brief resurgence followed by an injury relapse. This one won’t break the pattern. In fact, the only real difference is that he’s older.

By next year, he’ll be 42, and unless he wins the Masters or U.S. Open, he’ll have gone a decade without winning a major. There are only a very small handful of golfers who won a major when they were older than Woods, and none of them had his history of chronic back injuries.

Here’s what I’m trying to say: The rejuvenation of Tiger Woods is a pipe dream. If you’re excited about his latest comeback, you need to temper your expectations, cool your jets, and curb your enthusiasm. This is a sucker punch waiting to happen, and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain if you take it with a giant grain of salt.

Hypothetically, let’s say he plays well this weekend, as he did (sort of) at the same tournament last year—great! That’s a solid start.

It’s also completely meaningless in the larger context, since his game and his body seem to deteriorate after a short series of tournaments each time he tries.

A decent showing in the Bahamas would be a total set-up, a con job…except the perpetrator is also conning himself.

And yet, negativity aside, there’s a way Tiger can still “win.” No, he’s not going to win another major, and I’d be shocked if he wins a normal PGA Tour event, or even an exhibition. But the part of Faxon’s report that intrigued me most was about Tiger’s attitude. Here’s what he wrote:

‘He was happy…He looked effortless, he looked free…I think more than anything, he looked at ease…I’m just so happy that he’s happy…he’s in a great place mentally.’

Again, I stress to you that Tiger’s PR army probably had veto power over this report (if they didn’t just write it themselves), so there’s obviously a good deal of spin here. But if even the spirit of what Faxon says is true, that’s the best possible news for Tiger.

His life has been an utter mess since at least 2009, when the glaring spotlight of public humiliation was shone on him in Florida. It’s been awful from a mental, emotional, and physical standpoint, and the trajectory has been all about dispiriting collapse.

The Tiger Woods we saw in May—under the influence of five different drugs, arrested for DUI—made sense in this framework, even as it depressed the hell out of his fans.

A happy, pain-free Tiger, though? That would be a cause for joy, and it’s the ultimate victory I’m pulling for.

His greatness has already been ensured; his happiness has not.

I don’t wish him any trophies, but I do wish him peace.

Oh, and if you’re looking to wager on the Hero World Challenge? Look no further than Brooks Koepka and Hideki Matsuyama. They’re both set to explode.

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What do you think?