The Tiger Experience

Woods’ comeback offers fans a chance to see the all-timer

Paramus, NJ- 7:54 AM on a Thursday morning doesn’t normally feature a golf tournament’s big draw. Crowds normally aren’t on the course or awake. The fans at Ridgewood Country Club for the opening round of The Northern Trust, however, were both plentiful and aware of the treat on offer. They lined the ropes and walked the grounds in Paramus, New Jersey to watch Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer of his age, and possibly every age, play.

Since he turned professional in 1996, Woods has written a legacy as one of the most dominant athletes in his sport. He claimed 14 Major Championships and two of the first three FedEx Cups. Few players dominated golf courses the way Tiger was capable of it. Then came the revelation of his rocky personal life and multiple injuries that derailed his pursuit to unseat Jack Nicklaus as the consensus greatest golfer ever. Woods fell out of favor with the crowd and descended down the rankings.

Tiger climbed back into favor with fans when he started to fall into memory and out of grandeur. Golf started etching him into legend and remembering his greatness while he worked to redeem a fallen reputation and career. He won a few tournaments in the middle of the current decade, but continued back injuries nearly forced Tiger into retirement as a disgraced shell of his former self. In fact, Tiger almost called it a career at the 2017 Masters. He missed the entire 2016 season and most of 2017 with back surgery, and feared the end. “At that time, I was done, I didn’t know what I was going to be doing. I had no golf in my future at that time. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t sit.”

Woods climbed back to relevance with five top five performances this season, including an excellent weekend at Carnoustie in the Open. But Tiger returned in force at Bellerive in the PGA Championship, dueling Brooks Koepka to a scintillating finish. Woods landed two strokes short, but his remarkable final round and runner up position was the weekend’s story. The fans in Paramus wanted to see that kind of magic. They cheered as Tiger teed off on the eight hole six minutes before eight AM. They were awake early for the Tiger Experience. They got to watch him play, but it wasn’t Bellerive Tiger.

Woods finished his first round even par. He birdied holes 17 and 3, showing off his distance on fairway woods. However, he missed makeable putts and bogeyed holes 2 and 5. He whistled by the grave yard early, missing the first two fairways and saving par on both. But he missed potential birdie putts and wasn’t terribly accurate off the tee. He was today, an average PGA Tour player. Still among the best on earth, but Tiger’s standards are higher than “Tour Average”.

Still, the fans were pleased to see him. Woods drew the largest crowds, almost at the expense of his own playing partners. Frequently, Woods made his par putt to finish a hole, then Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood would prepare for their putts as fans walked to the next hole to beat the rush. Fleetwood outperformed Woods today, but Woods is a star unparalleled in golf’s history. Through the round, Woods drew attention away from the groups ahead and behind him. And those included a trio of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, and Brooks Koepka, and another trio of Webb Simpson, Bryson DeChambeau, and Francesco Molinari. All are respected names in the golf world, but none are Tiger.

The fans got the Tiger experience. And while he was only average today, many noted their excitement for tomorrow or Saturday when he “turns it on” and dominates the way only he can. Woods will tee off tomorrow afternoon with Marc Leishman and Tommy Fleetwood as his playing partners. Their tee time is 12:55.

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For more on Tiger, Tim Williams followed Woods during March’s Valspar Championship.

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Chris is a proud Boston University Terrier ('16). While at BU, he studied political science, hosted a radio show, and covered the school's basketball team. Since graduation, he's attended the Connecticut School of Broadcasting, covered College Hockey's biggest events, and joined the Sports Talk Florida crew to cover notable northeastern sports happenings. You can find his fedora on press row at various hockey rinks or wandering PGA Courses