I know we did this a year ago but much suggests this Hero World Challenge comeback is different.
And if it's not different, who cares? He's a legend trying to come back. Tiger Woods could easily have his feet up on Privacy, diving and not giving a hoot. Instead, he gives the impression of someone refreshed, rejuvenated and motivated for one more great run. (Cynics, James Corrigan has the dissent for The Telegraph.)
Golf Channel coverage begins at 12:30 ET Thursday. Woods tees off with Justin Thomas at 12:05, so expect live look-ins for his warm up and first two holes on Morning Drive and the Golf Central Pre-Game.
And yes, we'll be all in on those shows (I'll be chatting with Gary Williams at 9:30 am ET). The other 17 players in the Hero field have had nice, long seasons and I would hope are just fine letting the tournament host and 14-time major winner enjoy the spotlight.
Golfweek's Jeff Babineau observed this of Tiger's final preparation, a pro-am round with Hero CEO Pawan Munjal:
...Woods appeared to be free-swinging, hit his driver fine and even made an eagle (driving the 350-yard seventh hole, which played downwind, making a putt of 20 feet). He added three birdies in his round, hit some terrific approaches into Nos. 2 and 17, a pair of par 3s, and even saved a nice par from the sand at his nemesis hole, the 470-yard 18th, where he made three of his six double bogeys in last year’s event.
Many of the younger players in the field, from Justin Thomas to Jordan Spieth to Hideki Matsuyama, have said they’ve looked forward to a day when they could compete against Woods at his best. He’s a long way from that, but most everyone is curious to see how Woods breaks from the gate this week.
“He seems more confident this year the way he’s walking and talking,” said Spieth, who spent time around Woods at the Presidents Cup this fall, where Woods was an assistant to Steve Stricker.
Bob Harig notes at ESPN.com that last year's edition of the Hero saw a 190% ratings hike for Golf Channel and incredible interest in Woods.
Without insulting any of today's young stars, Harig presents the many reasons we still have such a fascination with Woods. Including this story from former Tiger instructor Sean Foley:
Foley was at the Match Play Championship in Arizona, and he was in the hotel bar, where a woman recognized him and asked if he was Tiger's coach. A dentist who did not play golf, the woman said she recognized Foley.
"I'm a huge Tiger Woods fan," she said. "I never played golf in my life. My kids are gone now, and I take nine weeks of vacation a year. And I come to where Tiger is to watch him play golf. For me, it's like watching Ali."
"That's it, isn't it?" he said. "This woman who never played golf and took all her vacation time and she'd go to tournaments where there were not as many people. I think that's it. I think that is exactly why we are interested. She didn't know golf, but she just saw his greatness. She saw this aura, this energy. I thought it was fascinating."
Woods has given us much to chew on, but the obvious difference in his swing should be less of a story now that he's admitted the change is due to his fusion surgery. The rhythm, at least in the videos we've seen, has been good and aggressive.
Still, it's different and will be hard for some to get past. This, from Brian Wacker's GolfDigest.com story on Tiger's effort to take advantage of his newfound joy.
“Last year I was still struggling with a little bit of pain,” Woods continued. “I was able to hit some good shots, able to play, but in looking back on it now, I look on it as playing in slow-mo but it was as hard as I could hit it. I didn't realize how bad my back had become and how much I was flinching and just how slow I was. I didn't realize it because it's been a slow degrading process. I thought I had some speed, thought I was playing halfway decent, shot some good scores, but now I've looked back on it and man, I didn't even have much at all.”
It's also fun to see he's motivated by leaving his children with memories of the amazing player he once was, as Steve DiMeglio writes for USA Today.
The extent of Tiger's pain and pill abuse to squelch the misery became apparent with his DUI arrest, but it's still refreshing to see the normally guarded player admit things he used to never admit.
As Karen Crouse wrote in a solid piece for the NY Times, Woods is opening up about how he managed very inconsistent pain.
To try to manage his discomfort, and the insomnia that was a byproduct of the shooting pain that traveled from his back down his leg and into his foot, Woods misused prescription drugs. Between shots during a practice round on Monday, Woods said: “I was just taking drugs on top of drugs, just trying to kill the nerve pain. It was like something hitting your body about 200 times a day. And the thing is that I didn’t know when it was coming.”
The swing looks pretty sweet at impact: