As Tiger Woods finished in the top five of the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational over the last two weeks, the glint was back in the eye of the 14-time major winner.
Normally, anything less than a victory, would rarely represent a good result in the mind of the 42-year-old. Yet, on both occasions, a second and fifth-placed finish, was seen as huge progress for Woods in his quest to return to former glories after a series of back problems over the last four years.
Swinging freely and putting lethally, Woods seems to be close to his best again.
Yes, appearances at the Farmers Insurance and Honda Classic offered encouragement earlier on in the year. However, it’s his performances at the Valspar and Arnold Palmer Invitational, which have triggered belief that the back fusion, undertaken after a failed comeback attempt in 2017, may have finally worked.
Looking on with keenness, golf’s governing bodies, tour executives and tournament officials will have been rubbing their hands together, thinking of the benefits a fit Woods can bring to the sport and their events.
For instance, you only have to look at the huge crowds following the Californian over the last couple of weeks on the PGA Tour to realise the impact he still holds in golf and the sporting world.
The Players Championship in May, widely regarded as the sport’s unofficial ‘fifth major’, will be on the horizon after the Masters and, with Woods looking fit and driving the ball well, the tournament’s director, Jared Rice, is eagerly anticipating the legend’s return to TPC Sawgrass.
“First of all, I want to say that Tiger Woods is an unbelievable athlete, and if anybody could come here and win after such a long time out, it would be him,” Rice told Elephant Sport.
“For sure, anytime that a player of his stature is in the field and participating in your sport, the sport is better off for it. He has a unique appeal.”
Indeed, at the Valspar, golf broadcaster NBC reported an increase of 181% in their third round viewing figures – their highest-rated Saturday golf broadcast for a dozen years.
It’s clear, similar to Roger Federer in tennis and Usain Bolt in athletics, Woods sparks interest on an unprecedented level when he is part of the field, which is why tournament directors and golf’s hierarchy are hoping that this is a bona fide comeback.
Once in a generation
“We have, in recent years, seen record growth in attendance both from home in America and internationally,” said Rice. “With our prestigious and well-heralded fan experience, luckily we are not reliant on one player.
“But saying that, although we have always had strong fields, Woods is a once-in-a-generation player, and having him added again to what we have already going on here would, undoubtedly, aid the tournament greatly.”
With golf suffering somewhat of a decline in interest, the return of Woods, the sport’s most iconic and influential player, couldn’t have come at a better time as millennials look for inspiration to play and watch the game.
And, although a flurry of talented and exciting youngsters such as Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm have emerged in recent times, none of them yet possess the aura and magnet effect of their elder competitor.
Rightly, a lot has been made of the hysteria around Woods since his return, with current and former golfers berating the lack of focus around other great players in the field.
But, frankly, the truth is that golf and its success, still relies heavily on a healthy Woods. Hence, all those involved with the game will be desperately hoping his latest return is not short-lived.