The Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, is the locale for this year's most anticipated event in the world of golf—the return of Tiger Woods.
As the most important player on the PGA Tour, Woods' return from a back injury will be a spectacle even bigger than a few weeks ago when Martin Kaymer ran away with the U.S. Open at Pinehurst, although those who are looking for Woods to be in top form are sure to be disappointed.
Having started full swings again recently, it is hard to crown Woods with rampant expectations. He even admits that he has to get back to form, as captured by Steve DiMeglio of USA Today:
I got to a point where I can play competitive golf again, and it's pretty exciting.
Expectations don't change. That's the ultimate goal. It's just that it's going to be a little bit harder this time. I just haven't had the amount of prep and reps that I would like, but I'm good enough to play, and I'm going to give it a go.
There are a few underlying stories here. For one, Woods may not be back to proper fitness, but his participation this weekend screams of an ulterior motive—the Quicken Loans National is his own event after the company signed on to be the title sponsor of the event run by the Tiger Woods Foundation, started by Woods and his father in 1996.
Jason Sobel of the Golf Channel puts it best:
Credit to Tiger Woods for admitting he wouldn't have returned if this tourney didn't benefit his foundation. We were all thinking it anyway.— Jason Sobel (@JasonSobelGC) June 24, 2014
“If this wasn’t the foundation, I probably would not (be playing),” Woods said, via Coleman McDowell of Golf.com. “Our goal was the British Open. I healed extremely fast. All the steps we’ve done along the way have allowed me to get to this point.”
All right, so Woods is back. What is there to truly expect?
For one, he'll save the PGA. Fans don't care if Woods is 20 under par or over. If he's there, fans tune in—just ask the ratings from the horrific showing of Kaymer's triumph, per Austin Karp of SportsBusiness Daily:
Yikes. NBC gets 3.3 overnight rating for final round of US Open w/ Kaymer's huge win. Has to be 1 of lowest (if not lowest) Sunday on record— Austin Karp (@AustinKarp) June 16, 2014
Now we just have to hope Woods' tune-up as he prepares for bigger events does not result in an injury once again.
Remember 2013, when Woods led the PGA Tour with five wins? How that momentum came to a screeching halt this season, where glimpses of his 2013 form were fleeting at best?
Expect that form once more. Only this time, Woods is building back up in a positive manner, rather than having the appearance of an older car with the wheels falling off as black exhaust coughs out of the back end.
It's going to take time, but Woods is a competitor and is willing to sacrifice current wins to keep his eye on the bigger picture. Any amount of time off creates rust. Compound that with Woods having to once more trust his body, and this weekend will not be a pretty performance by any means.
Which is fine. Woods is back. The sport will flourish in the face of various events around the globe, including drafts and international events that come once every four years.
Woods may even bow out early, but it's not what is important at this stage of the season. His fitness and ability to play in bigger events this summer should be the end goal for all who tune in this weekend to see Woods back on the course.