The great golf mystery of 2014 is over, as Tiger Woods will return to the PGA Tour on June 26 at the Quicken Loans National.
Tiger made the announcement in a low-key manner with a short post on his Facebook fan page Friday afternoon:
After a lot of therapy I have recovered well and will be supporting my foundation next week at the Quicken Loans National. I've just started to hit full shots but it's time to take the next step. I will be a bit rusty but I want to play myself back into competitive shape. Excited for the challenge ahead.
It seemed like a matter of time before Tiger got back on the course after Tim Rosaforte of the Golf Channel reported on Tuesday the 14-time major champion was taking full swings in Florida last weekend.
This move is so typical Tiger in how calculated it feels. Even though there was no clear timetable for his return, the British Open always seemed like the obvious starting point. He wasn't going to come right back for a major rusty, so he finds a low-stakes event that allows him to work off the cobwebs before trying to obtain the real prize.
Unfortunately, any expectations for Tiger heading into Royal Liverpool on July 17 will lead to inevitable disappointment. The Open Championship has been one of his better events in recent years, with two top-10 finishes in 2012 and 2013.
Those events came when Tiger was in a good groove at the time. For instance, two years ago, he won the AT&T National three weeks before the Open. Last year, he had four wins before the middle of May.
Sports fans aren't rational people—sorry to break it to any of you who don't realize this. John Strege of GolfDigest noted that most of the early money for the Open was going towards Tiger before he even committed to playing in an event.
Earlier this week, Sam Weinman, editor of GolfDigest, noted that should Tiger Woods return at the British Open, “Oddsmakers will insult players who have played well all season by giving Woods a better chance of winning.”
It has already happened, even before we know whether Woods will returns or not. A mere hint that Tiger might be ready to play the British Open caused Jeff Sherman, the assistant sports book manager at the Las Vegas Hotel, to move odds on him from 20/1 to 15/1, he said.
The fascination with Tiger is understandable. He moves the needle more than any other player in golf. If you don't believe me, Austin Karp of Sports Business Daily noted how bad the ratings were for Martin Kaymer's U.S. Open win:
Better comp for US Open: NBC got 5.1 overnight for McIlroy 8-stroke win in 2011. Also on Fathers Day. So this year down 35% compared to that— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) June 16, 2014
Yet we all seem to romanticize what Tiger used to be instead of what he is, similar to the way Michael Jordan has been elevated to a flawless God-like figure in retirement.
How will Tiger fare at the British Open?
There's a reason Tiger hasn't won a major championship in more than six years. He's not head-and-shoulders better than the rest of the field anymore, though he's still one of the best players in the world at his peak.
If Tiger had enough events under his belt this year, he would rank 183rd in driving accuracy percentage (52.86) and 194th in greens in regulation (56.67). Yes, the injury played a role in that, but keep in mind he was 69th in driving accuracy last year and at 38 years old, skills aren't going to get better as your body starts breaking down.
It's fine to watch Tiger because he's fascinating and fun, but that should be the only way he's viewed right now. He's not the world-class champion we used to know, nor is he the same closer that used to dominate Sunday, shooting a 74 in the final round at last year's British Open when he was just two shots behind the leader after Saturday.
The mystique is gone, and with the rust likely to still be very prevalent after more than three months off, Tiger's British Open will be about him being on the course instead of a serious player to win.
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