When Tiger Woods announced he’d be making a return to competitive golf at this week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, the reaction was predictable.

Tiger has dominated golf (and for a time, sports at large) in a way that will likely never be replicated, and it’s understandable that folks would be excited to see him. But considering this played out similarly last year before this exact tournament, leading to a layoff that included spinal fusion surgery, it was fair to wonder how much people should realistically expect, even if most observers both inside and outside the golf world were unlikely to keep their expectations realistic.

It took less than three holes for some vintage Tiger, when he pulled a long iron on the par-5 third to go for the green in two:

Tiger would two-putt for birdie there. It wasn’t all perfect, of course; on the very next hole, Tiger chunked a chip to put himself in jeopardy of giving back the stroke he’d just picked up. Instead, he did this:

Tiger did flub another chip, leading to a bogey:

But his back nine was very solid, including back-to-back birdies on 13 and 14, capped off by this sweet wedge shot:

Tiger took a penalty on 15 after driving it into trouble off the tee, leading to another bogey,  and then parred out, but it’s tough to complain about an opening round 69 considering his lengthy layoff.

Tiger himself concurred:

So, what can we take away from this?

Essentially, as much or as little as you want. That’s the nature of small sample sizes, after all. If you want to get excited for a Tiger comeback, you had more than enough evidence to prop up your case today. It’s tough to luck into a good round of golf at the courses these guys play. Tiger’s swing looked loose and fluid, or as loose and fluid as can be expected from a guy whose spine is fused together.

His putting was especially encouraging, and while he’s struggled with chipping when he’s been able to play, he wasn’t the only player there who had a tough time making contact around the greens. (If you want a deep dive, you’re welcome to, but in short it has to do with the Bermuda grass and the soft conditions, among other factors.) And if he’s truly pain-free, and enjoying playing again, there’s no one who will work harder to get back into contending form. That’s kind of Tiger’s whole thing, to a fault.

But if you want to remain skeptical, you have last year’s Hero World Challenge, where Tiger led the field in birdies made and then didn’t look good in competition again until, well, today. Health is impossible to forecast, and what forecasting there is tends to favor theories like “having spinal surgery after a litany of back problems doesn’t portend consistently great health going forward, especially for a golfer.”

It’s possible to be both excited about today and reasonably skeptical going forward. But if you want to go all-in, Tiger’s got some decent Masters odds at the moment.

The best news of all, though?

Woods will be back out there tomorrow, and we’ll get to keep watching him. That’s been all too rare for far too long.

About Jay Rigdon

Jay is a writer and editor for The Comeback, and a contributor at Awful Announcing. He is not a strong swimmer.

  • Fisherman695

    Hope he does good, good for the game brings more viewers. Hope he is half of what he once was in golf. Just not person you want your daughter to go out with.

  • cashmagnet

    That was an excellent, well balanced article, Jay. I agree with your bottom line conclusions all the way around. Hopefully the natural torque and violence of his swing–of the tee and elsewhere–won’t undo the benefits of the spinal fusion over time…But my Inner Cynic doesn’t think this will hold up…

    Hope I’m wrong, but…

    Clifford
    Sta. Monica