It’s faintly ridiculous that in the space of less than a couple of weeks, after taking part in a pair of hit-and-giggle events, one under the lights and one alongside his 13-year-old son, that this question is once again running through our heads.
At the end of November we would mentally write Tiger off after he pulled out of his own event with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, the one damaged so badly in last year’s car crash that amputation was 'on the table' . It seemed further proof that he wasn’t capable of doing the ordinary any more after decades of performing the extraordinary.
But then he pulls us back in. It doesn’t take much. One raking hook in a skills challenge should do it where, after not touching a club and having that screaming pain shooting through his right foot, on top of the fused back and all the other body malfunctions, he does things like this…
#TigerTuesdaysMerry Trajmas to all. 🎁 https://t.co/hqTqeDhKYH pic.twitter.com/XwoNG5aPqUDecember 13, 2022
Then he and his son waltz round the first round of the PNC in 59. Yes, he was in a cart and on a course where the fairways and pins were more than generous, but he’s still doing it. He’s still hitting the shots that he wants to hit, he’s still got the length and he’s still got all the short-game wizardry in his fingers that he’s been able to call on for the bulk of his career.
One shot that particularly pleased his caddy Joe LaCava was a short iron into a par 5.
“Only an 8-iron but a beautiful shot because he had to hit it hard and draw it,” explained his sidekick. “He drove it well and pretty consistent. Enough distance. A few past JT (Thomas) but that’s not what we’re looking for. It’s just about hitting it solid.
“More important to me, it’s about hitting the shot that he’s trying to hit. Sit up there and hit a high cut, and that’s what he’s hitting. If he’s hitting the shot that he’s trying to hit, I’m good with that.”
These are the people who we need to listen to rather than scrolling through Twitter and trotting out our own generalisations. None of us have played professional golf and none of us know what it takes to win Majors. We can stick our finger in the air and have a guess what's going on under the bonnet but, when the likes of LaCava begin to make some positive noises, then we ought to take note.
Padraig Harrington has won three Majors. Much of his career has overlapped with Woods and he knows what it takes to win these days against players 25 years younger and with ball speeds that most of us can only dream of.
The Irishman, one of the soundest thinkers in the game, is still backing Tiger to win again having watched 10 holes of The Match.
“You'd never run Tiger off but I actually think he might be in a better place than I had thought. There's two things that make a golfer – how talented they are and how resilient they are. Usually you get very talented, not very resilient; or you get very resilient and not very talented. Tiger, through his whole career, has both of those, which is very unusual.
“So I would never doubt. The little bit of extra speed will help him because in the first 63 holes, you know, who would want to be coming down the stretch against Tiger? You know he's capable of doing anything at that stage. I think he's in a better position to get himself into that last nine holes.”
Last season Justin Thomas averaged 314 yards off the tee which was good enough to be the 14th longest driver on the PGA Tour. On Sunday Woods left a note by his pal’s ball after knocking it well past him.
“You’ve got mailed,” the note read, as in airmailed.
The pair of them are regular practice partners and Thomas admitted that Woods is now, just short of his 47th birthday, longer than him off the tee.
“We’ve hit balls at home and I wasn’t joking when I said it, when he’s feeling well, he’s longer than I am with a driver. I might be able to hit it further than him if I go after one but consistently, I mean, he’s hitting it farther than I am now.”
Woods probably plays as much golf with his son, Charlie, these days as anyone else. His summing up of his dad, given it was straight from the heart, was equally as gushing.
“I feel like I already knew what he was capable of and then yesterday (Saturday), that's the best he's ever played in a while, and that kind of shocked me a little bit.”
We know Tiger’s got the four Majors, and ‘maybe one or two more’, lined up in his head for 2023 and we know that he’s not going to take a cart for any of them. Given what he’s come through over the years he’s the easiest sportsperson on the planet to get carried away with but there are now genuine signs of optimism.
"The first year, I had back surgery and last year I played with a broken leg. So this year, nothing was broken, but it was good that all the pieces are there again all lined up. Now I get to truly recover and heal and progress forward on this because there's so many good things that I've been able to do physically. But I haven't been able to get from point A to point B and we're obviously going to work on this.
“If I can do that, I can still compete with these kids. It’d be good to get one (PGA Tour) win, but I’d like to get a big one, too."
Mark has worked in golf for over 20 years having started off his journalistic life at the Press Association and BBC Sport before moving to Sky Sports where he became their golf editor on skysports.com. He then worked at National Club Golfer and Lady Golfer where he was the deputy editor and he has interviewed many of the leading names in the game, both male and female, ghosted columns for the likes of Robert Rock, Charley Hull and Dame Laura Davies, as well as playing the vast majority of our Top 100 GB&I courses. He loves links golf with a particular love of Royal Dornoch and Kingsbarns. He is now a freelance, also working for the PGA and Robert Rock. Loves tour golf, both men and women and he remains the long-standing owner of an horrific short game. He plays at Moortown with a handicap of 6.
2023 Pebble Beach Pro-Am Picks: Our Staff's Six Favorite Bets
The best Pebble Beach Pro-Am expert picks from the PGA Tour this week. Our team of experts give their Pebble Beach picks.
By Tom Viera • Published
Pebble Beach Pro-Am Purse, Prize Money And Field
Pros compete alongside celebrities and other amateurs across three famous California courses
By Mike Hall • Published