It was the putting roar heard around the golfing world – a 13.5 metre monster for birdie at last week’s Valspar Championship in Florida that signalled, just maybe, that Tiger Woods is back to his best.
The bookies seem to think so, with his second-place at the Valspar seeing the 14-times major winner installed favourite at this weekend’s Arnold Palmer Invitational at the Bay Hill club.
It’s an event Woods has won eight times but has not played since 2013, a statistic that mirrors much of his recent career.
A recurring back injury has cruelled the 42-year-old’s past four seasons, forcing him to undergo multiple surgeries including having several discs fused in April last year.
Just over a month after the surgery, Woods was in police custody after being found asleep at the wheel of his car. A mug shot showed him bleary-eyed – sparking speculation his controversial personal life was again spinning out of control.
He was ultimately found to have five different drugs in his system – mostly painkillers – and pleaded guilty to reckless driving along with a stint in rehab to manage his use of prescription medication.
Since then it’s been a slow, but solid return to the form that made him a golfing superstar – playing four events, with a 12th place three weeks ago and then falling one shot of a play-off for first in Florida.
On Wednesday Woods was named named US captain for the 2019 Presidents Cup to be played at Royal Melbourne, where he’ll face off against his long-time rival and Internationals captain Ernie Els.
It’s a leadership role that fits with Wood’s determination to fight his way back to the top of the game.
“After working as a captain’s assistant for Steve [Striker] in 2017, I realised that I wanted to captain the 2019 event at Royal Melbourne,” Woods told PresidentsCup.com.
“I’m proud to follow in the footsteps of past captains like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Hale Irwin, Ken Venturi, Fred Couples, Jay Haas and Steve Stricker.
The Sandbelt courses of Australia are some of my favourite in the world, and I’m looking forward to seeing Royal Melbourne again.”
Still, Woods is discounting his chances of winning this week – let alone addressing the public support that sees him as second favourite for next month’s US Masters.
“Just because I won here eight times doesn’t mean I’m going to win this week automatically,” he told USA Today.
“I still have got to do the work.
“I still have to go through the process of getting myself in position, but I understand this golf course.
“I’ve got to do some serious homework … I really have to get to know and get the feel of how this golf course is playing this particular year, considering I haven’t played here in five years.”
With golf ratings needing a boost, expect anything that looks like a Tiger Woods revival to be hailed as the sport’s next big thing.
Not bad for a 42-year-old with a bad back.