Mentally Preparing for Tiger Woods in 2018

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Tiger Woods announced to the world on Monday via his Twitter account that he would make his return to competitive golf for the second time in two years at the Hero World Challenge in late November. The news is undoubtedly great for the sport and the industry, but it will nonetheless be interesting to see how this year’s return to the sport plays out.

Let’s preview the best, worst, and a more realistic scenario for Tiger in 2018.

Best Case Scenario

Tiger wins his 15th major.

Tiger currently has fourteen major championship trophies on his mantle, second only to Jack, who has eighteen.

Let’s face it, Tiger isn’t getting any younger, and his competition isn’t getting any older. Tiger, at age 41, isn’t exactly running out of time, but it wouldn’t hurt for him to hit the course running if he has any hope of catching Jack. The good news is, Sergio just won the 2017 Masters at age 37. Henrik won the 2016 Open Championship at age 40. The bad news is the average age of the other three major winners in 2017 was 25. Nonetheless, if Tiger even sniffs 3/4 of his old form – the kind of form that produced 912 straight holes without a bogey during his prime years – then a 15th major certainly isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Tiger Woods celebrates after sinking a putt on the first playoff hole…

Tiger Woods celebrates after sinking a putt on the first playoff hole to win the 2005 Masters on April 10, 2005 at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, Georgia. Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

Take a moment and visualize Tiger lurking on a Sunday of a major. Imagine if it were Tiger and Spieth, Thomas, or DJ, duking it out down the stretch at Amen Corner in April. I’d expect nothing short of a breaking news alert with silencer override capabilities blaring from iPhones across the globe.

Worst Case Scenario

This is painful to write, but Tiger’s physical health forces him to hang it up for good.

His latest return from health problems was just over a year ago at the same Hero World Challenge. He finished in 15th place out of 18, although his performance included a 7 under round of 65. He went on to play at the Farmers Insurance Open, where he shot 76-72 and missed the cut. He eventually played in one more event, the Dubai Desert Classic in February, but withdrew before the start of the second round due to back spasms.

An “anterior lumbar interbody fusion” surgery soon followed in April. It was his eighth surgery over his 11-year career as a professional.

Tiger Woods of the United States looks on as he walks off the 18th…

Tiger Woods of the United States looks on as he walks off the 18th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, The Bahamas on December 4, 2016 in Nassau, Bahamas. Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

Admittedly, it was quite difficult to watch the player who made me love the game at a young age struggle so badly in Dubai. The longshot, underdog version of Tiger doesn’t feel right at all. Hopefully, the recent back fusion surgery did the trick.

Tiger likely won’t go crazy with a full schedule this year, so hopefully he can ease his way back in and build up some much needed PGA Tour stamina. However, if he has to take another extended leave due to another serious back issue, then 2018 may be the last time we see Tiger tee it up in a competitive event ever again.

A More Realistic Scenario

Tiger Woods finishes the season and is relevant on a Sunday.

Tiger hasn’t played a full PGA Tour schedule since 2013, which is also the year he won his last PGA Tour event. He made seven PGA Tour starts in 2014, eleven in 2015, zero in 2016, and the one last year.

At age 41, he can certainly be competitive at least one tournament if his body can hold up for the entire season. While the sample size was extremely small last year, he did manage to average 299 yards off the tee with 115 mph club head speed. These stats indicate he is more than capable distance wise, which is an important stat to consider due to his back problems. If Tiger can tidy up the short game and play as much as the body allows, then you never know.

The difficulty that Tiger faces, however, is that the competition is very stiff these days. Far better than his heyday when he won 24.1% of his events. To put that amazing stat into perspective, Spieth and DJ’s win rate are 8.7% and 7.2%, respectively. One could argue that Tiger was just that good, but I’m more inclined to believe that it’s just that hard to win consistently on the PGA Tour nowadays.

Winning an event, even if he sniffs old form, is no guarantee.

Captain’s assistant Tiger Woods of the U.S. Team and Erica Herman…

Captain’s assistant Tiger Woods of the U.S. Team and Erica Herman look on during Saturday four-ball matches of the Presidents Cup at Liberty National Golf Club on September 30, 2017 in Jersey City,… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

From a pure golf perspective, Tiger certainly deserves a happy ending. He was no saint off the course, but a pure savage on it. Let’s also not forget how Tiger changed the PGA Tour completely. Roger Pielke Jr. of Sporting Intelligence, who coined the phrase “The Tiger Effect”, concluded that from 1996 to 2008, tournament purses rose from $101 million to $292 million. It’s no coincidence that Tiger just happened to join the Tour in 1996. He single handedly filled the pockets of pros both then and now.

And who could forget Nike’s “Hello World” and “I Am Tiger Woods” campaigns? The ads literally merged the sport of golf with big business. He still has high value as an endorser, despite his personal woes. Look no further than the CEO of Bridgestone, Angel Ilagan, who was recently quoted for saying that Tiger has more power as an endorser of their product than he does as a player. He means that much to the industry.

Bottom line, Tiger Woods is more than capable of competing again if his health doesn’t hold him back. Winning will be much harder for him than it was before, but let’s hope he can at least finish his career on his own terms as opposed to his body’s terms. It’s only the most appropriate outcome.

The Hero World Challenge, Tiger’s own charity event, is held in the Bahamas from November 30 through December 1 and features 17 of the world’s greatest golfers including 7 of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Rankings.

Cover Image via Instagram

About Casey Kirchberg

Casey is a diehard golf fan residing in the San Francisco Bay Area. Growing up in Ohio, golf was always a family affair since he took up the game at the age of 5. He's a full-time compliance professional and a part-time golf geek. Casey is a member of the Northern California Golf Association, and student at the Edmunds Golf School.

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