After a year-long sabbatical, Tiger Woods -- remember him? -- returns to golf this week at the season-opening Safeway Open. Since it's been quite some time since we've seen the 14-time major winner in action, we're sure you have a swarm of Woods-related questions. Luckily for you, we're here to help:
Wait, Tiger Woods is going to PLAY?
Is he ever. He's going to be in the field this week, he'll have a caddie, his score will count, the works.
I thought he was retired. Didn't he retire?
Golfers don't retire. They just slowly fade into the abyss. Or, as most people call it, the PGA Tour Champions.
When was his last tournament?
His last competitive event was in August 2015 at the Wyndham Championship. He played well, entering the final round in the penultimate group, only to finish 10th thanks to a so-so Sunday performance.
Why the absence?
Serenity, clarity, perhaps he needed a break to see if there's more to life than g...just kidding. He underwent microdiscectomy surgery last September, his second career back procedure. He had a follow-up operation in late October, and, following a rough start to his recovery, spent most of the 2016 season getting back to full health. And with good reason: Woods stated he'd returned too quickly in previous injuries, and with his competitive window closing, couldn't afford the same mistake this time around.
But he hasn't been competitive in ages, right?
Depends on your perspective. Yes, he hasn't captured a major since 2008, but he did win five tournaments -- along with Player of the Year honors -- in 2013. And though he didn't display much fight in his 18 collective appearances in 2014 and 2015, it was clear his energy tank was far from full.
On the other end of the spectrum, the top-10 Wyndham finished vaulted Tiger to...257th in the world rankings. (He enters this week as No. 786.) I don't care how beat-up or bruised you are; for a man uttered in the same breath as Jack Nicklaus, 257th in the world is hard to swallow.
The year off bestowed ample rejuvenation time for Tiger; it's now-or-never for Big Cat.
Now-or-never? How so?
We're not prone to hyperbole, but let's be straight: Tiger turns 41 in a few months. As we've seen with Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk this season, and Vijay Singh and Kenny Perry before, a player can be formidable on tour in his mid-to-late 40s. Father Time is undefeated, but guys are at least extending the fight into the later rounds.
Conversely, he is 40. He's coming off a 13-month convalescence. If he's unable to go after such a respite, do we think more rest, swing changes or surgeries will save him? If it doesn't work now, it's never going to happen.
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I saw Tiger dump three shots into the water this summer. What's the latest word on his game?
Tiger reports are like Bigfoot sightings: people swear they've seen him play, but there's no video or photographic evidence to support such claims. Our most trusted recon comes from Jesper Parnevik, who told Golf Digest that Woods has looked great in practice:
"He's pounding it a mile and flushing everything. On the range, at least, his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago. Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular."
However, let's temper this by noting Jesper has a reality show, and every moment of reality television history has been scripted.
We will add that, while Patrick Reed swears Woods didn't swing a club at the Ryder Cup, there were rumors that Tiger found getaway time from Hazeltine to practice. But most importantly, Tiger circled this return date a month ago. Woods has used ambiguous -- and sometimes, ominous -- vernacular when discussing his comeback. That he committed so early to a return illustrates the conviction Woods has in his game and body.
Why did he choose this tournament?
The Safeway Open field isn't necessarily stacked -- zero of the world's top 10 players are here this week -- allowing Woods to dip his toes in the shallow end of the competitive pool. If the ultimate goal is competing for another green jacket, he needs the reps. A low-key atmosphere is the first step in that process.
Has he ever played at the Safeway Open?
Yes and no. He finished 30th in his lone appearance in 2011, but the tournament was then known as the Frys.com Open and held at CordeValle Golf Club. This year's competition will be at Silverado Country Club in Napa, California.
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Tiger is synonymous with Nike, but didn't the Swoosh stop making clubs? What will be in his bag?
As we've seen with Rory McIlroy, some Nike endorsers are taking their time in choosing new sticks. However, since he announced his intentions to return, club reps have inundated us with assertions that Tiger is "seriously" considering their products. Don't be surprised if his bag is a hodgepodge of bats.
So you don't know, do you?
Not a clue. A PGA Tour driving range has more rumors than a high school cafeteria. When it comes to players' equipment, there's so much smoke it's hard to see the fire. Amplify that with Woods. I will say most insiders believe he'll have a TaylorMade M1 or M2 driver, but when it comes to irons, wedges, putter and balls, the trusted sources are all over the place.
Does he have a new caddie?
Nope, Joe LaCava -- one of the more respected and beloved loopers on tour who's carried for Fred Couples and Dustin Johnson -- will return for Tiger. The two have been together since the fall of 2011.
Is this the only tournament Tiger is scheduled to play?
When he stated his desire to play in Napa a month ago, Woods also named the Turkish Airlines Open (November 3-6) and his own Hero World Challenge (December 1-4) on his prospective itinerary. If he plays well this week, there's a chance he'll show up at Davis Love III's Sea Island event in mid-November.
Hold up, the Turkish Airlines Open? What the...
Appearance fee. Take your salary, times it by 10, and that's probably what Tiger will get for merely teeing it up at the European Tour event.
Will he still be rocking that devilish chinstrap?
We hope so. You usually only see whiskers like that on baseball closers or "Sons of Anarchy" fanboys.
Phil Mickelson campaigned to play with Tiger at Napa. Is that supergroup happening?
Sounds like it, as the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Sunday that the two fan favorites will be together on Thursday and Friday. And if that doesn't deliver enough star power, Woods is also allegedly paired with Golden State Warrior Steph Curry -- who I'm told is good at basketball -- during Wednesday's pro-am. Guessing that might draw a bit of a crowd.
What should we keep an eye on?
His driving. Woods infamously battled a case of the short-game yips, but when his scores go north, a wild tee ball is usually the culprit. If he has any aspirations of cultivating a serious push as a player again, Woods desperately needs to keep his drives in the short stuff. The vice has been an inherent part of his game throughout his career, yet failing to alleviate this woe will equate to early tournament outs.
OK, how do you think this week will play out?
Above, we mentioned the need to acclimate into the high-stakes environment. But if Woods wanted to play it safe, he could have staged his return at the Hero World Challenge. He's also a prideful, stubborn competitor. You're bananas if you think Woods doesn't remember the snickers from Joe Buck at the 2015 U.S. Open or the Internet's scoffs at his Congressional catastrophe. Woods isn't coming back just to get cut. He's back because he feels he's back (by the way, you can get in on the action any number of ways).
It's doubtful he'll muster a charge for this week's title, yet I see Tiger making the weekend, with flashes of hope shining through the rust. It will be a long road to returning to glory. But expect an auspicious first step.
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