Yes, amazingly, he is back. Months ago, I had recommended he retire and go out in relative style. But the guy obviously has little or no quit in him, especially after this fusion surgery has him feeling, and playing, quite well, thank you very much. In fact, he’s been in contention–top tens–in his last several tournaments. That’s a tremendous accomplishment given the depth of talent on tour.
Why this is so is due to a number of important factors that could be instructive for his fellow pros and even amateurs like you and I. Here are those factors:
- Tiger still retains just about all the skills needed for success.
- Driving. He’s over 300 on average and, with a few exceptions, as accurate as most other top players.
- Irons. He’s beginning to dial in on distance as he did so well during his heyday.
- Pitching. He is over the yips and is occasionally holing difficult pitches like that fully-accelerated pitch from heavy grass just off the green and short-sided at the Valspar which he holed for an incredible birdie. Do you know what kind of guts and skill that takes to pull off that shot?
- Chipping. Again, Tiger is almost automatic with this chip, grab, and run shot, insuring gimme pars and occasionally holing out for shock ‘n awe birdies.
- Putting. His green reading abilities are not quite what they were in his heyday. (He was easily among the greatest green reader in golf history then). But his stroke is pure, his routine and posture about the same as always. The 40 footer that snaked in near the end of the Palmer was reminiscent of his heyday.
- Shot shaping. Tiger can still curve it left or right, at will. There is practically nothing that can stymie this guy.
- Trouble shots. With his strength and ability to stay with the shot through impact, the man is Seve-like in his ability to escape from jail.
- Rebounding. Tiger still has the ability–though perhaps not quite as effective as before–to put a bogey behind him and follow it with a par or better. Nobody does this any better than Tiger, and many do it worse. It’s what I define as mindful golf in my book of the same name.
- The Stinger. This low missile of a two iron puts him in the fairway and within pin hunting on most long par fours.
- Tiger still retains a strong will to win.
- And his intimidation factor is still there, though not quite as intense as in his heyday. He no longer has competitors shaking in their boots, but when he charges onto the leaderboard on Sunday and they get a glimpse of his huge gallery, competitors turn in his direction. It is still unnerving.
- His mind. Tiger is still a master of course management. True, late in the Palmer, he hit a drive out of bounds and followed that with another bogey, dropping sharply from contention. But he’ll figure all that out.
What else? Well, Tiger has 14 majors in the bag. He has targeted Jack’s record of 18 since childhood. You better believe Tiger, now at 42, believes he can still catch Nicklaus. Certainly, a couple more Masters are possible. He knows and has detailed yardage books of the course, including the greens. If Tiger is putting anything like he used to, watch out. His stinger puts him in possible contention on most British Opens over the next few years, as well.
Of course, the wild card involves Tiger’s health, his back in particular. Will that fusion surgery hold up under the rigors of an “explosive” driver swing? If it does hold up, and Tiger hones his skills to an even sharper edge, then, yes, I think he could tie or even break Jack’s record. Personally, I’m pulling for him to do so.
Time, as always, along with fate, will tell.