Four days in the balmy Bahamas was well worth the wait.
After a 10-month absence from competitive action, Tiger Woods returned to greener pastures with his surgically repaired back and plenty of positives in a game he once ruled, but has never been forgotten.
With a -4 under par 68 on Sunday, the former perennial leader of the pack tied for ninth among an 18-man field that beckoned eight of the top 10 best players in the business.
In the Hero World Championship that he hosts, Woods showed blasts from his storied past complete with a series of signature fist pumping putts for eagle and 315ish drives off the tee.
Despite finishing 10 shots behind winner Ricky Fowler, who closed the door with a course record 61, Woods had one shaky 75 round to compliment his competitive 69 and pair of 68’s. It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen a healthy Tiger convincingly tackle the game that’s been out of his grasp – for the better part of 72-holes it seemed like he never left.
“I’m excited,” said Woods, who was followed the entire round by his two kids and No. 1 in men’s singles tennis Rafa Nadal. “This is the way I’ve been playing at home and when I came out here and played, I was playing very similar to this. Not quite hitting it as far, but I had the adrenaline going and overall I’m very pleased.”
All of us amateurs know the drill of leaving our A game on the driving range, so even for the guy whose won 79 PGA tournaments, it’s never a gimme that you’re going to excel when your past history of comebacks has proved otherwise.
The man who walked the course with his boss was beaming, too.
“Lots of positives,” said Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava. “Drove it very well, got his speed back, was hitting the ball for the most part where he was looking, was hitting it both ways. And he’s hitting it out with the young boys.”
“You are always expecting good things, and I had a little advantage seeing him twice in the last month, so I knew it was getting better and getting closer. But I didn’t think it was going to be quite as good as it is at the moment.”
And LaCava didn’t mince words when asked if Woods could win in 2018.
“Of course,” he said. “And that’s coming more from a health standpoint. And he has the equipment dialed in. We’re much more optimistic going forward than we were last year.”
Who knows what the future holds for Woods, but for four days in December, it was delightful to see him smile while sinking 17 birdies, and pair of eagles, en route to being on the other side of a plus sign.