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Despite a disappointing end to his final round at Carnoustie, there is a lot to be excited about if you are a Tiger Woods fan. The three-time Open Championship winner shot an even-par 71 on Sunday and finished tied for sixth at -5 for the tournament. This marked the first time Tiger has had a top ten finish in a major since 2008. More importantly, we saw a glimpse of the old Tiger, and for a brief moment, he was atop the leaderboard while wearing his signature Sunday red. So, is Tiger back?
While it is unlikely that he will ever reach the dominance of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, one thing is for certain: Tiger finally looks completely healthy. After multiple back surgeries, it was unclear whether or not he would ever play competitive golf again. After a slow, strenuous rehab process, Tiger has shown the ability to put together four consecutive rounds of solid play without any physical limitations, which is something we haven’t seen in years.
His improved health has also renewed his confidence in taking high risk, physically demanding shots that he became known for earlier in his career. On the eighth hole of the final round, Tiger found himself deep into a bunker following tee shot. At that point, the smart play would have been to simply chip out and settle for a more manageable approach. Instead, he pulled off a vintage Tiger Woods shot and took an aggressive swing out of the bunker and carried it to the front of the green. In doing that, Tiger flashed the creativity, skill and showmanship that made him one of the most dominant golfers of all time. In that brief moment, he gave us a reason to believe he had the physical ability to win the tournament.
Unlike his previous comebacks, this one feels more convincing because all facets of his game seem to be in tune. Despite the occasionally inaccurate tee shot, Tiger’s game has been very solid. One bright spot has been his wedge shots and chips around the green, which has been consistent throughout this season. His putting has also been a strength, especially this past weekend where he made numerous long putts that put him in a great position heading into the final round. His improved short game to go along with his typically solid iron play has landed him four top ten finishes in 2018, including a second place finish at the Valspar Open back in March.
Despite the promising play as of late, Tiger lacks the intimidation factor that made him one of the most feared athletes in the world. Part of that is due to the fact that he is now 42 years old and well past his physical prime. Gone are the days where he can simply outdrive the field and win on pure adrenaline and momentum, which might be the reason he has performed poorly in final rounds this year. There is also a deeper pool of great players in this new generation of golfers, which could also affect his ability to consistently rise atop leaderboards.
Nonetheless, Tiger has shown the physical and mental ability to compete with the world’s best players and prove that he can once again contend for championships on a regular basis. While it is unrealistic to believe that Tiger will ever come close to the dominance he once showed, Tiger has brought excitement back to golf and his presence alone uplifts the sport. Whether or not he will ever win another major or threaten Jack Nicklaus’ record remains uncertain, but the remote possibility keeps us hopeful and is the reason why we still watch on Sunday afternoons.