The stage is set for the return of golf’s GOAT as, after 15 months away from the game, this week sees the much anticipated return of Tiger Woods at his own foundation’s Hero World Challenge.
Having last teed it up competitively in North Carolina at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, there is sure to be a cacophony of support for the 14-time major winner as he takes the first step towards a successful return to Tour golf.
Many were disappointed at Woods’ decision to pull out of both the Safeway Open and the Turkish Airlines Open earlier this year. Some viewed this news as further confirmation that he was never likely to compete on Tour again, while the man himself claims it was a ‘smart decision’ which will only benefit him in the long run.
Despite the undeniably long and arduous road ahead, Tiger has been in bullish form in the lead up to this week’s event in the Bahamas. The current world 879 believes he has a more extensive array of shots at his disposal, all of which have been acquired through the sheer number of golfing hours he has chalked up.
According to Woods, he isn’t here merely to make up the numbers. Neither is it a token appearance at a tournament which is quite obviously close to his heart.
He has been working daily on his stamina - both on and off the golf course - and has even been encouraged to ditch his golf buggy in a quest to get tournament ready.
The game may still be “vulnerable” and there will be significantly lessened expectations. With all that said, intrigue surrounding his reintroduction to the world game is sky-high and there is no bigger draw in any field than Tiger Woods.
If you listen for long enough, it would be very easy to get caught up in Tiger’s self-belief and to seriously consider his chances of picking up a tournament win this week. To do so would be to completely disregard that this is a man who, while of undoubted legendary status, is returning from an extended period away from the game due to lengthy battles with health issues, swing faults and personal problems.
It is likely that he is in a better place on all of these counts. Indeed, he will need to be. To succeed in a more competitive golfing landscape than that which existed when at the height of his powers will require unshakable focus and determination.
Regardless of how this week pans out, it is a first milestone on his quest to recapturing the dominant form which set the world of golf alight. And it was dominance of the highest order.
First he has to prove to himself that he can once again deal with the rigours of a gruelling Tour schedule – both mentally and physically.
It remains to be seen whether Tiger will ever get back to that level and it would be fair to say the odds are stacked firmly against such an outcome. While it will be a journey taken one small step at a time, we will all get to enjoy watching it unfold.
Step one starts this Thursday!