Don’t say you expected it all along. Don’t say you knew Tiger Woods would be battling for the hardware in just his fourth tournament of 2018 and fifth overall since he went under the knife 11 months ago. Don’t say you predicted he would be in contention this early on the comeback trail. Don’t say all these, because you’d be lying through your teeth and effectively taking the luster off his accomplishment. The thickness of his resume notwithstanding, he had been up against time, so much so that even his most ardent fans, and he himself, saw fit to temper projections on his performance.
Certainly, Woods understood the long odds on crowding the leaderboard, let alone carving victory, so soon after subjecting his ailing back to a fourth surgery since 2014. There was no denying the effects of his advancing age and brittle body to his competitiveness. He did appear to be getting better and better, with his 12th-place finish at the Honda Classic, his last stop, underscoring his progress. At the same time, it highlighted the handicaps he carried; whether from lack of reps or of advice, his swing mechanics were at best disjointed, and sound adjustments coupled with repetition under challenging situations were keys to development.
Which, in a nutshell, was why Woods saw fit to add the Valspar Championship to his schedule. Never mind that he had played at Copperhead only once before in his career. Forget that he would effectively be cramming his preparations for the Masters, with his stop at Innisbrook to be immediately followed by an appearance in the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill. He needed the pressure, and he needed to see how he would hold up physically and mentally.
In retrospect, perhaps Woods’ presence in today’s penultimate pairing is simply a natural offshoot of his efforts. After all, he is who he is, proud holder of 79 tour titles, 14 major championships included. Last September, he didn’t even know if he could still wield a club in his hands. Last December, he was just glad to be teeing off in earnest. Last week, he looked forward to building on his work. And last night, he relished a round that evoked memories of his extended reign as king of the sport; from the teeming crowds to the electric atmosphere to the spectacular shots to the clutch putts, he was decidedly in his element.
Will Woods succeed in hoisting the trophy today? Will his Sunday-red exertions lead to his desired outcome? Considering his condition this time last year, it’s fair to treat the answers as bonuses. On the other hand, he will be a fool not to pounce on the opportunity; as he noted in the aftermath of an outstanding four-un, “I know what it’s like to be one back.” Up next: Reminding the world he also knows what it’s like to win.
Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994.