On Tuesday I attended a Cobra/Puma media event at which Cobra introduced its new line of clubs. Rickie Fowler and Bryson DeChambeau were there, too, hitting a series of shots and taking questions in an open-forum Q&A.
After their demo, I got a couple minutes of one-on-one time with each of them. By the time I got to Fowler, he was nearly out of time, but I squeezed in a couple questions about his offseason mentality and about life in Jupiter this time of year before his handler told me to wrap it up.
I was eager to fire off one more question. As a recovering mini-tour player and one-time resident of the greater West Palm Beach area, I hear my share of Tiger-related rumors, most of them unsubstantiated. But the word from Medalist, where Woods and Fowler both play, is that the 14-time major champ is oozing confidence and pounding his tee shots — outdriving Fowler in their games by 20-30 yards.
As I thanked Fowler for his time, I asked him about it.
"So, is it true that Tiger’s been hitting it by you in practice at Medalist?"
He didn’t hesitate.
"Oh, yeah," he said with a grin as he walked off. "Way by."
I tweeted the exchange:
Asked Rickie if the rumors are true that Tiger's been hitting it by him in practice at Medalist.— Dylan Dethier (@dylan_dethier) November 14, 2017
He said "Oh yeah. Way by."
So yeah, Tiger's back
It was meant to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, a juicy bit of innuendo. I mean, I got a four-word quote — it wasn’t exactly indisputable video evidence. But the tweet took off. (As of this writing, it had nearly 300 retweets.) I was flooded with excited quote-tweets, and within a few hours the exchange had quickly transformed into "Tiger’s-back" internet blog fodder on both sides of the Atlantic.
So what’s actually true? Here’s what I believe:
1. It’s fairly likely that Tiger is, in fact, hitting the ball as long or longer than Fowler. This would be consistent with their driving distances of the past, and it appears Tiger hasn’t exactly been dogging it in the gym.
2. I also think that Fowler got a kick out of the question and dropping a walk-off answer. These guys are all used to getting asked incessantly about Tiger — there’s no question that they like to have fun with it, when they can.
3. If Tiger is knocking it past Fowler in practice, that doesn’t mean "he’s back!", as the UK’s Daily Express screamed in a headline Wednesday morning. Remember the "worst-ball 66" before the 2015 Masters? Yeah. That didn’t exactly pan out in the long-term.
4. Everyone wants to believe that Tiger could come back — not because we necessarily believe he will return to glory, but because it would be so fun if he did.
5. Mostly this episode is a reminder, not that we need one, of just how hungry the general public remains for any shred of positive Tiger news. There’s nobody else — not Phil, not DJ, not Rory — whose practice-round driving distance would register as newsworthy.
In two weeks, we’ll get to watch Woods and Fowler tee it up on the same lush fairways in the Bahamas, and on high-def television, no less — with glorious Shotlink data at our fingertips. Let’s save our judgments at least until then.
In the meantime, let’s all take a deep breath. Tiger’s not back.