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Tiger Woods returns to golf with an exhilarating first nine holes



By Brendan Porath

Tiger’s not just back but he’s also pouring in birdies and making a stunning run toward the top of the leaderboard in his first round in 15 months.

Somewhere the most delusional Tiger truthers may have expected this. But not the rest of us, who approached Tiger Woods’ first competitive round in 466 days with realistic expectations. And those expectations were low. He hadn’t played in 15 months, was up against 17 of the very best in the world, and wasn’t exactly lighting it up when he was last seen playing golf.

It took just nine holes to cast all those tempered expectations aside. This is Tiger Woods and despite how awful he’s looked in recent years, he’s still capable of this — coming back after the longest layoff of his career and quickly posting four birdies in his first eight holes to take a share of the lead.

Perhaps the biggest test of Tiger’s return was that first tee and first hole. We’ve grown accustomed to wild drives on Tiger’s opening holes — it seems to happen every Thursday at the Masters. This one was pulled left too, but he hit an excellent recovery shot from a lie that in recent years would make us nervous he might grab his back in pain.

And … he’s off.

Tiger Woods makes par at his first hole of 2016. #QuickHits

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 1, 2016

That was an exhale moment. The rest of the front nine would leave us breathless and sweating.

The biggest concern, unrelated to his health, was Tiger’s ability to chip a golf ball. It was at this event two years ago that the first signs of those dreaded chip yips showed up in a big way, as Woods chunked and chili-dipped his way around Isleworth for four days. It would plague him at the start of 2015 and force a voluntary hiatus that threatened to end his career.

So far, however, Tiger’s wedges have actually been a strong suit of his opening round. He encountered two tight greenside lies early on and delicately rolled them up to tap-in range to save pars. An outrageous flop shot at the 7th hole led to his third birdie of the day. The short game wasn’t an impediment, but actually a weapon early in his round.

Moments later, we really started to lose our minds when Tiger shouted his patented “One Yard!” command at his tee ball on the par-3 8th. That meant it had to be good, and we’d see it land right on top of the flagstick a beat later. Woods brushed that short putt in for his third straight birdie, his fourth in the first eight holes that put him on a share of the lead.

Tiger Woods is officially dialed-in.#QuickHits

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 1, 2016

It was at this point that Tiger became the favorite to win not just the Masters, but every single major next summer. Expectations did not matter. Reality did not matter. We were getting vintage Tiger and there might as well have been no one else on the course, or in the sport.

Tiger’s front nine, however, hit its first and only speed bump on the 9th hole. He yanked the drive way left again into some tall hay that forced a side-hill punch out perpendicular into the fairway. A missed chip from a really tough spot left him with a finishing bogey on the par-5 9th.

Golf is hard.

Even for Tiger Woods. #QuickHits

— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) December 1, 2016

We almost needed that to cool down after those first eight holes. Chipping from these tight and grainy surfaces around these Bahamian greens is not easy, but that chunk will definitely reminded us of the terrors from recent yippy rounds. It was excusable given the lie and pin so let’s hope it’s not a sign of those demons still occasionally taking control.

Despite the ending, this was a stunning show from Tiger in his first nine holes since August of 2015 and there will be more par-5s and birdie chances coming into the house.




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