NASSAU, Bahamas — The hype has been fun. Now it gets real.
Tiger Woods would say the same thing. On Wednesday afternoon, after his pro-am round at the Hero World Challenge, he said his excitement "is getting up there," but only after he has completed his evening duties as tournament host will he get "locked in."
Just after noon on Thursday, Woods will step onto the first tee and hit the opening tee shot the golf world has been patiently (impatiently?) waiting for. It might go left, it might go right, it might even go straight. But if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know it’s certain to go a long way — perhaps longer than one would expect from a 41-year-old after four back surgeries.
The driver has played a big role in Woods’s hype train this past month. It was the club he swung in his first video published to Twitter after getting the green light from his doctors six weeks ago. Most recently, Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler and Brad Faxon all commented on Woods’s impressive length off the tee. The PGA Tour added gasoline to the fire by posting numerous videos this week of Woods smashing his TaylorMade d-stick (and almost exclusively so). You have to admit, they are fun to watch.
While this week would be far too early and would provide much too small a sample size for conclusions on Woods’s long game, it’s all everyone really wants to talk about. Which is unusual, because though we’re used to talking about Woods's power game, we're not used to talking about it being great, at least not recently. Even during his five-win 2013 season in which Woods rose to No. 1 in the world, he was a below-average driver, finishing 127th on Tour in strokes gained: off the tee.
But look at his pro-am Wednesday and the most excitable part was when he drove the green on the 340-yard par-4 7th. He’d make the putt for eagle, much to the delight of his pro-am partners, one of which was Hero CEO Pawan Munjal. It was Munjal who sat next to Woods during his press conference Tuesday as Woods talked about hitting the ball 320 yards back at home in Jupiter, smashing it well out of the sight of his daughter, Sam. As Woods said with a smile Tuesday, that's a new experience for her.
And so, with less than 24 hours until Woods's latest comeback blasts off, the hype has reached a peculiar apex. We’re certainly ready to see tee shots fly, and if Woods drives it as well as the last few weeks have led us to believe he can, he will be in great shape to make bunches of birdies at Albany, just as he did a year ago.
Moments after booming another drive up the right side of the 18th fairway, Woods made it clear for one of his pro-am playing partners: "If I drive the ball well, I’ll have wedges into most holes."
That would certainly work to alleviate what Woods says is his biggest concern about his game: his distance control.
"That part’s been a little bit more of a difficult thing to do," Woods said. "These lies, we’re getting a couple shooters every now and again. Just got to be careful on that. Joey [LaCava, his caddie] and I were talking about that today. I made an adjustment on a few things."
Woods sounds ready for competition. We’ve seen and heard that before.
But a long-bombing version of Woods? It’s been awhile.