Tiger Woods shot an even par round of 70 to open the Honda Classic. That’s actually a solid score for that event; PGA National is a difficult course, famous for its Jack Nicklaus-designed “Bear Trap” stretch of difficult holes on the back nine. The best score from the morning was Alex Noren’s -4 round of 66.
Tiger’s playing his second week in a row; he missed the cut last weekend at Riviera. Prior to that, he made his season debut at Torrey Pines, making the cut and finishing T23. He’s ranked 544 in the Official World Golf Rankings, a product of making just six starts (and one cut) over the last two years.
It’s almost impossible to describe just how odd it is to watch Tiger Woods look average. For so long, Woods was the epicenter of anything that happened with golf. He basically willed Nike’s entire golf division into being thanks to his talent and once his career disappeared for a few years, a product of injuries and a damaged personal life, Nike’s golf division essentially went out of business.
Woods isn’t that player right now. He hasn’t been for some time, and it’s possible he’s never that player again. Even Woods seems to understand that. His return this year has seen a different Tiger, from a personality standpoint: clearly more open and friendly with his fellow players, even longtime rivals.
When you'd rather trade stock tips and make jokes about how you've got green jackets older than some of these kids than remember what the beef was even about back in the day. pic.twitter.com/bAElobt1L5
— Kevin Van Valkenburg (@KVanValkenburg) February 14, 2018
If things like this are signs that Tiger’s in a much better place right now, personally, that’s great. He clearly deserves it, and it’s not a bad thing.
It is, however, weird. Just as it’s weird to watch Tiger grind to make the cut. So far in his return, Friday afternoons have had much more drama than Sunday. Commentators spend time talking about which courses on the PGA Tour schedule would be too tough for him to succeed.
I'm honestly not sure I'll ever adjust to commentators worrying about courses being too difficult for Tiger to play.
— Jay Rigdon (@jayrigdon5) February 17, 2018
This is the same guy who caused golf’s run of “Tigerproofing”, lengthening and tightening courses (including Augusta National) as they were seen as too easy for him and the new generation of golfer and golf equipment. It’s incongruous with his celebrity; his return means golf networks have gone back to a Tiger-centric model, featuring him heavily and often, whether or not he’s anywhere near contention.
That approach to ratings generation might make sense for now (and interest in this comeback is undeniable, thanks to multiple false starts the past few years), but it’s also a sign of what golf coverage does wrong. There might not be a Tiger-level star, but that’s the norm. That the networks have failed to attract viewers despite the unprecedented depths of talent is an indictment.
Instead, viewers get Tiger, even when he’s just as likely to do something like what he did on the third hole Thursday, when he laid up to the middle of the fairway on a relatively easy par 5, tugged his approach into a bunker, and then knocked it around the green en route to a double bogey:
He rebounded with a birdie on the next hole before making pars all the way in.
It’s entirely possible that Tiger wins at some point this year. It’s also possible he contends at a major. His swing is fast, he’s apparently as healthy as he’s been in a long time, and as that immediate birdie shows, his mental toughness is still present. But he’s not what he used to be, and it’s a very tough adjustment.
And if it’s this tough for us, imagine how tough it is for him?