Tiger Woods is back, and his fellow PGA Tour players are pretty darn happy about it.
Honestly, that seems to be a bit odd. But when you think about it, maybe it's not all that odd.
Yes, Woods' return creates an instant buzz on the PGA Tour, a buzz that's been missing for the three months he's been out tending to what had become a very painful back injury.
But let's just think about this. Who knows how Woods will be when he tees it up Thursday in his own tournament, the Quicken Loans Classic? There has to be some rust, as he hasn't played competitively since March.
Once he knocks off that rust, however, if Woods comes back at anything close to how he performed a year ago, those guys cheering his return could be looking up his tailpipe again in a hurry.
“He has been the face of golf for the last 15, 20 years, and golf is a better sport and a better place with Tiger Woods in it,” Rory McIlroy—who staged a brief battle with Woods for the top spot in the world—said in an Associated Press story that ran in The World during the U.S. Open.
From a competitive standpoint, McIlroy is absolutely right. When Woods is in the field, there is more buzz and crowds are bigger, and media attention is always directed toward his every move.
Perhaps the biggest indicator of Woods' impact is shown in television ratings for the Masters and the U.S. Open. According to a story on USA Today's The Big Lead, ratings from Masters Sunday were 7.8—the lowest ratings ever for a non-Easter Sunday Masters finale.
At the U.S. Open, the results were even worse. According to a report on AwfulAnnouncing.com, the ratings from Pinehurst were a lowly 3.3.
“I’m so pumped,” Keegan Bradley said of Woods' return, per the Golf Channel. “It’s great news for golf and great news for the Tour. A no-Tiger Tour is not the same. … We need Tiger. The whole Tour needs Tiger and golf needs Tiger."
It should be no surprise that golf's resident curmudgeon, Nick Faldo, was the only voice to be something less than pumped.
"I think for the rest of us mere mortals, coming off back surgery, just making the cut would be a good goal," Faldo said in a Golf Digest blog post. "That's what I'd be focusing on: making the cut this week and trying to improve on that every week after."
Even Bubba Watson, who often seems oblivious to what goes on around him, put out the opinion that how Woods plays this week is not that important. The fact that Woods is playing, however, is very important.
“No matter if he misses the cut, no matter if he just finishes middle of the pack, it’s a great thing for golf that he’s back,” Watson said, per the Golf Channel. “Normally I don’t watch golf, but I’ll watch when Tiger’s playing.”
Jason Day knows about injuries. He's missed a considerable chunk of this season to wrist and thumb injuries after winning the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship in February. He seems to be getting healthier each time he plays and is fired up about the possibility of Woods being healthy too.
In that same Golf Channel story, Day expressed the same enthusiasm as Bradley.
“He kind of pumps me up because a lot of people come out, and I like it when there’s a lot of people following. I tend to focus a lot more," Day said. "I hope I get paired with him next week; that would be awesome. He’s always been my favorite golfer ever since I was playing as a junior.”
And who said dreams don't come true? The threesome of Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Tiger Woods will tee off at 8:12 a.m. Thursday and will also play together Friday.
Woods comes back tomorrow as the fifth-ranked player in the world. He's 207th in the FedEx Cup and needs to be ranked in the top 125 there to compete in the playoffs. He's 67th in the Ryder Cup standings, but United States captain Tom Watson said he'll make Woods one of his captain's choices if he's healthy.
The ripple effects of Woods returning as an active player are wide-reaching. His return has pumped up the players, and it has made television executives happy.
Perhaps most importantly, his return should bring back some of the casual fans who have drifted away from the game during his absence.
But for just a bit of a reality check, let's not forget that Woods is 38 and has a list of ailments as long as your arm.
He could go down with another injury of some sort, and we could be right back in the same situation we're coming out of right now.
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