We’ve been here before. We are Charlie Brown, lining up for a kick we’ll never complete; Sisyphus, destined to roll the same boulder up the same hill day after day, year after year; Jennifer Aniston in He’s Just Not That Into You, futilely searching Ben Affleck’s cargo pants for a nonexistent engagement ring.
We’re anticipating a Tiger Woods comeback, starting Thursday at the Hero World Challenge—Tiger’s first competitive golf in nearly 10 months—desperately hoping that this time, possibly, just maybe, things will be different.
Woods’s career injury timeline has been well-established and thoroughly examined: three knee surgeries, four back surgeries, and a whole host of other ailments over the last 15 years. He’s said that prior to his most recent back surgery—an April spinal fusion designed to relieve back spasms, pain, and to provide stability—he was facing near-constant nerve pain. And though he’s seemed optimistic after his past surgeries there is reason to think that this return could stick.
A month after the most recent back procedure, Woods wrote on his website that he hadn’t “felt this good in years,” and that his long-term goal was to “play professional golf again.” Other golfers, like Davis Love III, Retief Goosen, and Lee Trevino, have all had similar procedures and returned to the sport, and Love was one of the people that encouraged Tiger to have the fusion.
Woods has been keeping the public abreast of golf progress, uncharacteristically posting videos of his recalibrated swings on Twitter—starting with a chip shot in late August that announced to the world that he was back on the course.
Dr. gave me the ok to start pitching pic.twitter.com/tboq1L3Xdn— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) August 31, 2017
With that video, the Tiger Hype Train left the station once again. Quotes started rolling in from golfers who’d played a round with him, fans who’d seen him at a clinic, and coaches who examined the videos to estimate how far this version of his swing could carry him. Of course, none of the hype means anything until we see how Tiger plays this weekend. And from experience, we’ve learned to be more cautious in the expectations created from this game of quote telephone and analysis from a distance.
But, against our better judgment and despite the reminders that “we’ve seen this movie before,” the tweets are still fun to read and the legends are exciting to hear. Put together, they tell the story of a golf community nostalgic for its once-brightest star to return, however briefly, to the form that made him golf’s world no. 1 for 683 weeks. Below are some of the dispatches from the last few months that best tell that story—spend one more day with them before Tiger tees off on Thursday and reality sets in.
For now, as Ricky Rubio would say, just “Be happy. Enjoy it!”
August 31: Tiger posted his first training video—the chip shot.
October 7: Tiger posted a slow-motion iron shot video:
October 15: Tiger showed off his driving for the first time:
October 16: Hank Haney, Tiger’s former coach, analyzed the drive, calling it a “swing he could win with.”
That’s a swing he could win with, it’s not across the line and stuck inside coming down, a little stiff looking but it’s good enough https://t.co/ZlVyyCKG3H— Hank Haney (@HankHaney) October 16, 2017
Also, Woods’s agent, Mark Steinberg, said that Tiger was cleared by his doctor for full golf activity.
October 23: Tiger hit a stinger (and referenced Star Wars):
October 30: Woods announced (in an extreme Dad Tweet) that he’d play at the Hero World Challenge, the tournament he hosts, in November.
November 1: Following the news that Tiger would play the Hero, Kevin Chappell described participating in a clinic with Woods the week after the Presidents Cup:
“[Woods] said he’d only been practicing a few days, but we got into … not a full game of HORSE, but it was kind of like, ‘Hey, can you hit this shot? Can you hit the shot?’ He had them all. It was kind of impressive to see. It was tough to tell how far the ball was going, just because we were on the range, but I was impressed with the sound. He’s always made a special sound. To hear that, and to see the ball control he had only a few days into practicing, was impressive.”
November 3: Woods made his podcast debut on UConn women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma’s Holding Court. There, Woods described the state of his game:
“I didn’t realize how much I had dropped off because of the pain in my back … just because I had lived this from day to day to day and couldn’t tell the difference. But now I can tell the difference, and my posture is so much better over the golf ball.”
November 14: In mid-November, Woods played practice rounds with Rickie Fowler at Medalist Golf Club near Jupiter, Florida. Later, Fowler was asked about Woods’s play:
Asked Rickie if the rumors are true that Tiger's been hitting it by him in practice at Medalist.— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) November 14, 2017
He said "Oh yeah. Way by."
So yeah, Tiger's back
November 22: At the Australian Open, Jason Day was asked about a possible Tiger comeback:
“I did talk to [Woods] and he did say it’s the best he’s ever felt in three years. … From what I see on Instagram and what he’s been telling me, he says he’s ready and I’m hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he’s hitting it very long. And if he’s hitting it long and straight, then that’s going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He’s always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”
November 24: Woods played a round with golfers Dustin Johnson and Brad Faxon, along with President Donald Trump at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, the Friday after Thanksgiving.
In a guest piece for Golfweek, Faxon wrote, “I was impressed with how far [Woods] hit the ball. Probably on the 10 holes that they were both hitting driver, Tiger hit it past Dustin half the time and Dustin hit it past Tiger half the time.”
Though a few days later, Johnson rebutted that claim:
Good to see Tiger healthy and competing again. Should be a good week..but I still outdrive him. pic.twitter.com/4wMBuwEsCR— Dustin Johnson (@DJohnsonPGA) November 28, 2017
November 26: At a practice round for the Hero in the Bahamas, Tiger reportedly finished 18 holes in two hours and 10 minutes. Afterward, he told Golf Channel he was finally playing pain-free. “It could be the next step, I just don’t know and that’s tough to live with. It’s been a struggle for years. To finally come out on the good side of it, it’s exciting. I am stiffer, I’m fused. But I don’t have the pain and if I don’t have the pain, life is so much better.
November 27: Reporters posted dispatches from Tiger’s Monday Hero practice round with Patrick Reed:
More Tiger: Was routinely blowing it past Reed off the tee. On their last hole he got Reed by about 50 yards.— Brian Wacker (@brianwacker1) November 27, 2017
Worth noting that TW is a consistent 15 yards past P. Reed off the tee. It’s a practice round and Reed’s not the longest, but still.— GC Tiger Tracker (@GCTigerTracker) November 27, 2017
After the round, Reed said, “I was shocked how fluid [Woods’s] swing looked and how far the golf ball was going. He’s always been a little longer than me, but some of those drives today he got out there. … He was hitting flight-ed, flat cuts, high cuts, low draws, high, just soft draws, moving it both ways with his driver,” Reed said. “If he starts getting command of that and feeling good, we’re going to have some fun.”