Buried in the right rough on the ninth, Tiger Woods stared down a recovery shot to keep him in the hunt at the Valspar Championship. Sitting at 6-under, just one shot back of the lead in the middle of Saturday’s Round 3, Tiger grabbed an iron, stood over the ball and … behind him the iPhones were out in full force.
For the first time in a half decade, Tiger Woods was doing something on a golf course worth archiving.
If Tiger were simply making the cut or finishing four rounds standing upright or playing in back-to-back tournaments, this comeback would be different than the last three, four, five – how many are we at now?
This is all of that, plus what matters most: actually contending for a win, something Woods hasn’t done since 2013.
After over-cooking the recovery on nine, putting him in the rough behind the green, Tiger whipped out the wedge, offered a little pitch and run and … it fell.
The crowd around him went nuts, Tiger calmly pumped his fist and moved onto 10 with a share of the lead.
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 10, 2018
He’d lose it to Corey Connors, who didn’t find out he’d even be playing in this tournament until he got a phone call Monday. Still, Tiger Woods will tee off on a Sunday in the second-to-last group, just one stroke off the lead.
“Loud,” Woods said of the crowd Saturday. “Very, very loud. … I’ve played myself right into contention, and it should be fun Sunday.”
To be sure, this isn’t Tiger 2000. He missed a straight 6-footer for birdie on 11. That never happened back in the day. But leave no doubt: He looks closer to Major-Winning Tiger than Sympathetic Tiger, even if only by 1 percent.
Over the course of this week, Tiger’s odds of winning the Masters next month have gone from 16-1 to 12-1 to 10-1. A year ago, the odds wouldn’t have been that good for him even playing at Augusta.
But if you want a stat that actually means something, there’s this: Tiger’s club-head speed on his drive at 14 was measured at 129 mph. It was the fastest speed recorded on the day, and considering he’s coming off back fusion surgery, well, that kind of hints that maybe his back is doing OK.
No one wants to see their sports hero stroll through the twilight of his career a shell of himself, and certainly they wouldn’t want to document it if they had to. So the simple fact the iPhones were out recording something to share on Facebook is notable.
Tiger Woods still has a long way to being “back” because the bar he set years ago is so freaking high. But even if he only gets partway there, say half, he’d be a 7-major-winning-caliber player.
Can he win one this year? Three months ago the answer would have been a hard and confident no. On March 10, less than a month before the start of the Masters, he might be as good of a bet as anyone.