Don’t overreact. Don’t overreact. Don’t overreact.
Look, I don’t want to alarm you. I want you to stay calm, no sudden moves. But listen closely:
Tiger Woods led a golf tournament. In 2017.
I know, I can’t believe it either. It’s like Michael Jordan smoking Steph Curry, like Lawrence Taylor crushing Dak Prescott. A guy who hasn’t been relevant in four years isn’t supposed to be dusting guys who were in elementary school when he started winning majors. But here we are.
Woods, who hadn’t teed up for a tournament in 301 days prior to Thursday, hasn’t won a tournament since 2013, and hasn’t won a major in nearly a decade, nonetheless leaped right to the top of the leaderboard at the Hero World Challenge on Friday. He fired off three birdies in his first four holes then added an eagle on the ninth to take sole possession of first place. As the round wore on, he drifted back to the pack, finishing at -7, five strokes behind leader Charley Hoffman.
“After a 31 on the front nine, I could have gotten a few more on that back nine,” Woods said. “I had a difficult time with speed all day on those greens,” and if Woods is griping about his game, you know that means he feels good about it. (It’s when the false confidence comes around that you have to worry.)
But still: this round of 68, following Thursday’s 69, qualifies as a phenomenal success. “I proved that the surgery was successful,” Woods said. “The rehab has been fantastic, and now I’ve got a chance to go out and play competitive golf again.”
Yes, yes, this is the point where the carping critics and cynical realists remind you of some hard facts: this is only one day, this is a limited-field tournament, this is a relatively easy course, his back could detonate at any moment, blah, blah. Woods is out there playing the same fairways and greens as the best players in the world, and he’s beating most of them. It’s OK to be a little bit impressed.
Woods himself knows that this isn’t the destination, merely a step along the way. “I just came back,” he said. “I still have a long way to go. It’ll take time, a lot more practice, a lot more training”—hold your breath, Tiger fans—“and more tournaments.”
There’s no cut at the Hero World Challenge, but Woods would’ve skated right by it regardless, and you could’ve made a nice little bit of cash if you’d predicted he’d hold the lead at any moment. Now, you can spin that money into betting on Woods to win the Masters … which suddenly isn’t quite as ridiculous an idea as it seemed 48 hours ago.