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Tiger Woods May Not Be “Back,” but His Fist Pump Is As Healthy As Ever

In his first action in 10 months, Tiger finished 3-under and three shots off the lead

Hero World Challenge - Round One Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

First, let’s get this soul-grounding, obligatory reminder out of the way: It’s been one round. Sure, Tiger Woods shot a 3-under 69 and finished the day three shots back of the leader in his first 18 holes of competitive golf in nearly 10 months. But ultimately this doesn’t mean much, and offers little in the way of predicting how he’ll play the rest of the Hero World Challenge, let alone next year.

He had some vintage Tiger moments — a fist pump after saving par on the fourth hole; a ripped drive on the first that went 30 yards farther than his playing partner, Noted Long Driver Justin Thomas — but he also had some flubs. He knocked the ball into the sand at the par-5 15th and, after a pretty poor drop and subsequent boot to the back of a giant sand dune, recorded a bogey. He bogeyed the par-5 ninth, too, after nearly finishing the front with a clean scorecard. And following an errant tee shot at 12, he left a club-slam divot so massive that it resembled a pothole; the Bahamian Department of Transportation may need to fill it in overnight.

So yeah, not his best, not his worst — a perfectly respectable performance in his first round back since back surgery in April.

Now, Tiger doubters, thanks for checking in, but don’t read the rest of this.

True believers: HELLO. How are you feeling?

Tiger’s playing again, really and truly, and he showed plenty of flashes of his old self on Thursday. Just watching him walk the course, chatting with Thomas, and lining up shots would have been worth the price of admission, but he gave us so much more.

Let’s start with that fist pump on the fourth.

Tiger was already 1-under and playing pretty well, but he left himself a long putt to save par near the edge of the green. Taking a slightly toned-down page from his 2008 U.S. Open Sunday-round book, he nailed the putt and couldn’t help but celebrate.

And throughout the day, his drives were big, towering affairs that, though not always on line, lived up to some of the hype we’ve heard from golfers who’ve played with him in practice.

Woods said in an interview after the round that he was hitting it longer than usual — an effect of all the adrenaline he experienced because he was finally in a competitive environment again (and possibly trying to make good on his trash talk to Thomas). And though he did admit that he came into the weekend with limited expectations, he said it with his signature Tiger smirk.

“I didn’t know what I could do,” Woods said when asked what number he expected to hit on the day. “It’s a little different when you got teed up in a tournament.”

It is different, and we’ll get three more rounds to see how Tiger finishes things out. Heading into Friday, Woods is tied for eighth behind guys like Tommy Fleetwood (who’s getting married in the Bahamas next week!), Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, and Jordan Spieth.

Though Tiger may not have met our wildest expectations for him on Thursday, and he’s not quite as Back as we want him to be, seeing his name on a leaderboard with those guys again is a welcome and encouraging sight.