He’s Back (Part the Infinity)

[Yes, yes, I know it’s been a while. Some changes – some planned, some unforeseen – have kept the Golf Nerd off the intertoobs for a while. But I’m back – and that coincides with the return of a slightly better known golf entity . . .]

Apparently, Paul Casey picked the wrong weekend to win a golf tournament.

Virtually any other week, the golfing press would report on Casey finally exorcizing the final round demons that had kept the talented Englishman out of the PGA Tour winner’s circle since 2009 by firing a final round 65 to take home the Valspar Championship against a reasonably strong field ….

No. No one wants to hear about that.

Instead, the golf world – check that, the sporting world – is agog over the fact that Tiger Woods is “back.”

“Back” takes on a variety of connotations here – it appears that the radical fusion surgery that was done on that part of the Big Cat’s anatomy (please don’t ask what actually got fused; to me, vertebrae are labeled like Scrabble tiles) appears to have held up, allowing him to complete four rounds of golf relatively pain free and with a swing that is producing scary numbers as far as speed is  concerned.

“Back” in that apart from missing the cut at the Genesis Open at Rivera (a track that for some reason has never suited his game), Tiger has shown remarkable progress each time he has teed it up, starting with making the cut on the number at Torrey Pines to almost getting himself into a playoff with Casey.

“Back,” meaning television ratings and on-course attendance went through the roof for a tournament that otherwise would normally attract us typical golf nerds and not too many other folks.

“Back” to the Arnold Palmer Bay Hill Invitational next week in Orlando, which TW has already captured a ridiculous 8 times.

“Back” in that Vegas has installed Woods as a 10-1 favorite at Augusta in a few weeks, which a few months ago would have been unthinkable.

Yeah, the man, as they say, “moves the needle.” The Golf Nerd Goddess and I were pretty much glued to our TV for most of the weekend to see if Tiger could hold up for the weekend. Phil Mickelson, after ending his own victory drought at the WGC event in Mexico City the previous week, joked on The Dan Patrick Show, joked that Tiger would probably win the Valspar just to one-up him again. With all due respect to Lefty, Woods being in contention was enough to push him to the background.

As someone who had pretty much written off Woods and either dismissed or ridiculed each of his previous comeback attempts, I will own that and happily eat some crow, humble pie, or whatever plateful of slop you wish to place in front of me. At the same time, folks thinking that he’s “back” to being the unstoppable dominant force of yesterday need to pump the brakes.

Yes, the swing speed is back. At the same time, it’s still a challenge for Woods to get the driver in the fairway. To be fair, the few times he pulled it out on Sunday he drove it beautifully, but not having the confidence in it to hit it on the final hole trailing by a shot left him a good 50 or so yards back for his approach from the rest of the field. That could very well put him at a disadvantage on venues where length is a factor.

His iron play, by his own admission, was average at best on Sunday, an outcome he attributed to being in-between clubs a lot of the time. That can be attributed to a lack of feel and an absence from being in the thick of competition for a while.

Tiger knows all of that – and that may be why that this version of the Cat may be the most endearing to watch. You knew that this was a different Tiger when he was genuinely pleased at making that cut at Torrey. And when he rolled in that gargantuan put on 17 to pull within one of the lead, there was no histrionic fist pump and shout; rather, a huge, almost sheepish smile broke out over his face, almost as if to say “Did I just do that?”

The man has been through a lot – yeah, much of it has been self-inflicted, but we love a comeback story, don’t we? Particularly one where the protagonist has been humbled and is grinding his way back, which is the script that Woods seems to be following. And throwing him into a mix of the talented young guns and a seemingly ageless Mickelson should make for compelling watching in the coming weeks.

Oh – and Paul Casey? Nice win, pal.

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