The comeback is no longer wishful thinking. Tiger Woods is back.
He demonstrated that this week at the Honda Classic by finishing 12th in challenging, windy conditions on the Champion course at PGA National.
Playing back-to-back events on the PGA Tour for the first time since 2015, the 42-year-old Woods led the field in proximity to the hole and finished second in driving distance (319.1). He also tied for 11th in scrambling and was 18th in putting.
This, in only his fourth Tour start in two years after undergoing four back surgeries. Last month, Woods tied for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open, and a week ago he missed the cut at the Genesis Open.
“I made a big leap,” said Woods, after posting rounds of 71-70-69-70 to conclude at even par 280, eight strokes behind winner Justin Thomas, who defeated Luke List in a playoff.
Woods’ ball-striking, distance control and accuracy were much improved from last week at Riviera Country Club. His hit 67 percent of the greens in regulation and more than half of the fairways (35 of 56).
Sunday, in only his 10th competitive round, he climbed into seventh place through 14 holes before surrendering three shots coming in.
“Overall, I’m very pleased,” he said. “I gave myself a chance.”
Teeing off an hour before the leaders with newcomer Sam Burns of LSU, Woods was attired in his traditional Sunday red shirt, black pants and black hat. He got the big gallery going by pouring in a 20-foot birdie putt at the par-4 first hole and added two more before dropping a shot at the par-4 ninth to turn in 2-under 33.
“My expectations have gone up,” Woods said. “I’m hitting the ball better. I knew I could putt it, I know I could chip it, but I didn’t know how well I was going to hit it. … I feel very happy the way I played the entire week. I really controlled my ball flight. This wind, you can get exposed pretty easily and I felt like I had control. I feel like each time out I’ve gotten better and I’ve gotten more of a feel for playing tournament golf. The last couple days, it felt easy to play tournament golf. The warm up felt good. I get into the flow of the round. I could find the rhythm of the rounds faster.”
But all and all, Woods @TigerWoods , ranked second in the field in driving distance (319.1 yards) and first in the proximity to the hole with his approach shots (29 feet, three inches). He hit 27 of 36 greens on the weekend.
“I’m just amazed at how well Tiger is playing this week,” Jack Nicklaus said as he sat in the television tower during the telecast. “As he learns how to play again, to get mentally back into playing again, he’ll do just fine. I think he did great this week.”
Unlike a week ago, Woods looked comfortable, confident and relished being in contention. All are great signs as he gears up for the Masters in four weeks.
So, too, did Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. He said he likes that Woods is hitting a few more stinger shots with 3-woods and 2-irons and that he’s moving the ball both ways.
“I saw improvement every day, which was nice,” LaCava said. “A lot of good tee shots later in the week, the driver included. He seems to have his distance control back, so that’s a good sign. He’s working the ball both ways.
“I do think he’s getting a hair tired sometimes in the middle of the round. As he gets more rounds in, though, as he continues to walk five hours in the grind and the heat and stuff, he’ll build up some stamina.
“I see great strides. I didn’t want to panic after LA and I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but it’s nice to see him going forward.”
Moving forward will be more range sessions and rounds at nearby Medalist Golf Club. And if history is an indication, Woods will next play in the Arnold Palmer Invitational in three weeks.
“I need to get back in the gym again and start training,” Woods said. “I just need to keep feeling good. Body feels good. I just need to keep feeling good. But I feel very positive about it. I’ve been away from tournament golf for so long, that I’m starting to feel the rounds. I’m starting to get into it quicker, feel the pace, feel the shots and get a better sense of it.
“The more I play tournament golf, the better I’ll get at it.”
Count Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods during the third round at Torrey Pines and during the first two rounds of the Honda Classic, among those impressed by the progress Woods already has made.
Said Snedeker: “I don’t see it going backward from here.”
For a guy who once craved nothing less than victory, that may not seem like what he wants.
But he showed so much promise this week.
Woods, who missed a year after spinal fusion surgery, had finished in a tie for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open in January and missed the cut in last week’s Genesis Open.
Whether Woods is truly healthy again, there is no denying that he is swinging with renewed ferocity. The warm weather presented perfect conditions for Woods’s back. He ripped a 361-yard drive on No. 10 on Friday, ranked third in driving distance for the week averaging 319 yards and unleashed a blistering 128-mile-per-hour swing. Most impressive, he led the field in proximity to the hole on approach shots, averaging 29 feet 3 inches.
But there’s so much to like from this showing.
Woods began Sunday seven back at even par and tied for 11th, with an outside shot at the win. And for a time, it appeared he was putting himself in position for a chance.
The 42-year-old began the round in style by draining a 20-footer for birdie at the par-4 first. He missed a 10-footer for birdie at the par-5 third but quickly rectified that by burying a 9-footer for birdie at the next (the par-4 fourth).
He was now 2 under through four and feeling it. Another nine-footer for birdie dropped at the par-4 eighth and he was suddenly within four.
But he lost momentum from there. His 5-footer for par at the par-4 ninth lipped out on the left, and that opening bogey of the day was certainly a bit of a killer if he wanted to contend for the win – even though he went out in 2-under 33.
He entered the back nine five back, and started with four straight pars. After draining an 18-footer for birdie at the par-4 14th, he was back to 3 under and within four.
A run at the title was still feasible with an incredible finish.
And then The Bear Trap snatched out all hopes immediately.
For the second time in three days, Woods’ tee shot found the water at the par-3 15th with his ball leaking just a little too far right and short. His 12-footer for bogey didn’t fall, meaning a second double bogey there in three days.
Now 1 under, Woods played the par-4 16th textbook from tee to green but raced a 26-footer some 7 feet by and missed the comebacker. The three-putt bogey dropped Woods all the way to even par. In two holes, he’d gone from a high of T-7 on the day to T-12. He then finished par-par to get in the clubhouse at T-11.
Once again Woods had a tough time late. He played The Bear Trap in 3 over on Sunday and 8 over for the week.
But overall, this week was a revelation.
This bests his T-23 recently at the Farmers Insurance Open and certainly quells a lot of fears coming out of last week’s missed cut at the Genesis Open.
Woods’ ball-striking this week was so improved from what he did in those two starts, and he was shaping and hitting shots that looked a good deal like the old Tiger. There were plenty of stretches where he appeared in complete control of his game, something that was a rare sight at Torrey or Riviera.
To finish off the week, he hit 9/14 fairways and 14/18 greens in the final round. He needed 31 putts.
Woods led the field for the week in proximity to the hole. And if there’s any good sign there was this … Woods was second in the whole field in driving distance. He’s still got that massive power.
His short game and putting were mostly on point in his first two starts, but his approach play and driving – ESPECIALLY his driving – were seriously lacking.
At the Honda Classic, though, he showed major improvement in both those areas. As we said, for stretches he looked in total control in both areas, able to hit basically whatever shot he wanted.
His short game and putting were both solid, if unspectacular, around PGA National’s Champions Course.
That’s not to say Woods can be 100 percent satisfied. His driver was still wild at times, and there were stretches where his approach play did fail him. His full wedge play was also lacking, as he failed to knock a lot of those close.
His course management is still a work in progress as well, with some occasional bad misses – the water balls off the tee at the 15th on Friday and Sunday were especially jarring.
But for those bullish on Woods’ comeback, this was a big week. If he fully back on form? No.
Yet, Tiger Woods winning another PGA Tour event is suddenly realistic again.
And that’s pretty exciting so early in his comeback.
Myboysay Sports Group Reporting From PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla.