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01 December 2023

It's mission accomplished: Tiger's return has golf back in the groove

By Joy Chakravarty

I still have egg all over my face for suggesting last week that Tiger Woods will possibly make his comeback at Doral, and not at the Matchplay. But as long as it has anything good to do with the world No1, I don't mind it at all.

I thought I had a great case for his Doral return and why he should avoid the Matchplay. But obviously, since we were not thinking alike, one of us is not a great mind. The consolation is that we are both not fools, because we differed.

The Tiger-mania was good while it lasted. I quite like Tim Clark, the understated South African who is a thorough gentleman. But not on Thursday night. How could he ruin the perfect script? All he needed to do was miss a few putts for the droves of spectators watching on course and around the world!

Enough of that. What's important is that Tiger is back, he is fit, and he has got both his knees working properly. To be honest, it would have been a miracle if he went on to win the Matchplay this week.

There are still a few wrinkles to be ironed out. The radar on his approach shots were not locking on to the target – something for Tiger and coach Hank Haney to work on before he starts in Doral (Yippee! We don't have to wait another eight months!).

From what I witnessed on TV, Tiger's driving off the tee was quite impressive, except for the wayward drive on the 15th, which hit the cart-path and went out of bounds. His putting was exceptional on the extremely demanding greens of the Ritz Carlton course at Dove Mountain – that 50-footer birdie putt he rolled in on the 14th against Clark has to be the shot of the tournament so far.

It may have been heart-breaking for the fans, but for Tiger it was mission accomplished. I am sure the Matchplay was more like a reconnaissance flight for him – just testing where his game and knee was before he makes a full-fledged return to the game.

All this should actually make his rivals extremely wary when the first Major of the year is played at Augusta National – where Tiger loves to roam – during the second week of April.

The happiest bunch, I am sure, would be the PGA Tour. They just needed this piece of good news after the detrimental impact of the credit crunch. Just how huge Tiger is for the Tour can be gauged by the fact that there were over 600 accredited media covering the tournament.

On Tuesday, Phil Mickelson thought he would practise in peace by reaching the driving range as early as possible, at 5:30am. Not on that day. There were already in excess of 250 journalists and cameramen at the range, waiting for the arrival of golf's Special One.

Here's looking forward to more Tiger-inspired mayhem on the golf course.

Joy Chakravarty is the Editor of Middle East Golfer.