Last week, without doubt, was a big deal for world golf. Tiger Woods made his comeback to competitive golf, and even though there wasn’t a fairytale win in his first outing after 16 long months, finishing 15th at the Hero World Challenge was way beyond everything that was expected of him.
A majority of fans, and critics, expected to see a rusty Tiger – one that would struggle to chip (there were stories that he delayed his comeback because of chipping yips) – backing away from difficult shots and who would not possess the desired clubhead speed while hitting his shots because he was still trying to protect his back.
Obviously, Woods himself did not help matters. He had pulled out of Safeway Open saying his game felt “vulnerable” at that point, and he then went about re-branding his business to TGR and saying he was entering the “next chapter”. That was enough to fuel speculation that the 14-time major champion was already looking at life after golf.
But the Woods that turned out at Albany Golf Club was one that raises visions of an exciting 2017. It was vintage Tiger, really. He was ripping it down the fairways, he was chipping in and fist-pumping and he was pouring in putts from distances that we were so used to seeing.
Of course, he made a lot of mistakes too. Six double bogeys hurt his chances badly, but the exciting part was the fact that he most the most number of birdies in the tournament – 24, which was three more than champion Hideki Matsuyama.
Going forward, two things will be key for Woods – his schedule in 2017, and the equipment he chooses to use.
It was clear that Woods was not the most comfortable with his Nike Method 001 putter, and the moment he was allowed to switch his clubs, he reached out for his trusty 1996 Scotty Cameron Newport, and the Newport 2 GSS, the putter with which he won 13 major titles.
This could just be the perfect opportunity for Woods to assemble a set that he is most comfortable with. He really doesn’t need the money from a massive equipment deal, and with Nike shutting down its equipment business, this is his best chance to do that.
Secondly, Woods needs to prepare a good schedule – one that lets him play more events and yet gives him the chance to allow his body to get enough rest. By his own admission, Woods said he requires almost two to three hours with his physio to wind down after a day’s round.
There is a distinct possibility he could be adding either the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship or the Omega Dubai Desert Classic to his schedule in 2017.
If it happens, there could be no better start to the new season.
SECRET OF MUKESH’S SUCCESS
On Sunday, India’s Mukesh Kumar finally broke through on international scene, winning the Panasonic Open on the Asian Tour.
It was the 123rd career title for the 51-year-old, who became the oldest winner on the Asian Tour. Those other 122 wins all came on the domestic Indian tour, where he has been a force to reckon with for the last 32 years.
When I was working with the Indian Tour as its media manager, I once had a very interesting conversation with Mukesh, who hails from a small central Indian town called Mhow. That’s when he revealed the secret of his success.
Mhow is an army cantonment town and has a small non-descript golf course.
Mukesh spent his childhood, hitting balls at the driving range, which he said had no grass, and the dirt was full of small stones. Every now and then, the club would jar his hands violently.
Mukesh became so good playing in those conditions; he now counts his blessings whichever golf course he goes and plays now.
“The first time I hit shots from a patch of grass, I thought it was the easiest thing to do.
“Today, whenever I play on a good golf course as a professional, I consider myself lucky. At least I won’t injure my hands,” he explains.
How simple is that?
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
“When I saw that he was four-under through eight holes, I wanted to withdraw so I could go watch him.”
– Fellow competitor Russell Knox, after he saw Tiger’s name on the leaderboard on the opening round of the Hero World Challenge.
“My phone was pretty heated this week leading up to the first round. But it went from heated to hot.”
– Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg on the interest shown by global sponsors and organisers in his client after a successful comeback.