February 18, 2023
Tiger Woods Latest Comeback
The country western song lyrics that goes, "I ain't as good as I once was, but I'm as good once, as I ever was" seems to best describe Tiger Woods at this stage in his career. I walked around Riviera on Thursday during the Genesis Open to see firsthand if this edition of Tiger Woods latest comeback could live up to the hype. Believe it or not, it did!
Playing alongside Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, he more than showed he can compete and hold his own against two of the best players in the world. He regularly stayed up with Rory on tee shots and his iron shots were crisp and penetrating. Any shot that was required; he was able to perform at a first class level or better. I've probably watched Tiger in person about forty times over the past 20 plus years and the swing and game he showed during the first round at Riviera is more than enough to win again on the PGA Tour and even win a Major. Now the question is, "Can he walk and keep his stamina up for 72 holes?"
With all of the operations on his knees, back, and now his leg and ankle, there has had to be a change after each surgery to his swing to accommodate the new restrictions that his body is able to do. There have been many instances where a good player had a similar operation and never regained his swing or form and wasn't heard of since. Tiger had to make adjustments after each surgery and came back better that ever. Each time he had to figure out a new way to accomplish the task and he did. This achievement might be overlooked in assessing Tiger's greatness, but it is a testament to his tenacity, intelligence, and commitment to greatness.
The swing that was on display at the Genesis Open is completely different than the healthy 2000 and 2001 swing that he used to win all four Majors in a row. It also is entirely different than the swing used before the severe damage done to his right leg and ankle in February of 2021. In reality, Tiger had to find a new way to swing the club to generate clubhead speed. In his recovery, he had to learn how to play golf again from the ground up. This makes what I saw on Thursday that more impressive.
The typical touring pro generates 115 mph clubhead speed with 171 mph ball speed coming off their drivers. The average age of a PGA Tour pro is 30 years old and most of the higher ball speeds come from players under the age of 30. Tiger is 47 years old, with multiple restrictive surgeries, and yet he is averaging in the upper 170's in ball speed with a few in the 180's. How is he accomplishing this speed?
Power is generated by clubhead speed, weight shift, and the turning motion of the shoulders and hips (torque), plus ground force. Professionals spend a great deal of time working and strengthening their legs to provide quickness, stability and firepower as they spring off their trail foot moving up and over to their front foot. This was a staple of the earlier Tiger swings. Now with the weakening of his right leg and ankle that support the power from ground force, that element is no longer there. Tiger had to find a new way to create clubhead speed. His solution was core power, generated by his shoulders and hips. Sounds like an easy transition, but after you have relied on your legs for support and power your whole golfing life, the change is big. Timing is very different and if not in sync, it can cause problems with the back, which in Tiger's case can be dangerous. Tiger hasn't said, but the time and energy that this took to get back to this point must have been monumental. I'm not sure even Tiger thought he could come this far.
What I saw two days ago was a swing and shotmaking that is world-class. I saw him walk without him noticeably favoring his leg, but it definitely showed some fatigue towards the end of the round. He will not be playing a full schedule of events, which is good, but if he is to win, the leg has to be sound for four full days. Only time will tell if it can hold up. Getting to this point has been inspiring. Going further and winning again will only add to the magical legacy of Tiger Woods.