All signs point to Woods playing well at the Open

Tiger is primed for a comeback at the Open
Fred Vuich/SI

Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Tour this week and for once it’s not a moment too soon.

In the last couple years, Tiger has been repeatedly sidelined by scandal, injuries, marital problems — we all know the list — and
each time he returned it felt like he was rushing to get back from something. The 2010 Masters. The 2011 Players Championship. The 2011 PGA Championship. When he returns at the Open at Cordevalle in Northern California, he’ll be coming back on his own timetable. The
dust has finally settled, and I expect Tiger to play well.

Everything points toward a good week for Tiger. He’s now had plenty of time to work with new swing coach, Sean Foley. If it’s going to work with Foley, then we should start to see it this week. I know it was only a practice round, but that 62 at Medalist he shot last week is a good sign. The caddie change is also good for him. Things had
obviously gotten stale with Steve Williams, and Joe LaCava, an
experience caddie whom Tiger knows and respects, is the perfect replacement.

The venue is a great place for him as well. No disrespect to the Open, but Tiger won’t have to deal with the pressure of a
major this week. Nor will he dominate the media coverage. This isn’t
northern Wisconsin; the Bay Area has a lot of other things going on.
Tiger should swinging more comfortably than he has in a long time.

I’ll be watching three things extra-closely this week that should show if Tiger’s on the right path.

1. His driver: I want to see him going at the ball hard and not losing
balls to the right.

2. His health: He should be as healthy as he’s ever going to be. He
turns 36 this December (can you believe that?) and it never gets any
easier coming back from injury. Basically, he’s learning to deal with
things that basically hurt all the time.

3. His short game: If he’s going to come back, it’s crucial he look
comfortable on and around the greens. We always talk about Phil
Mickelson’s brilliance in the short game — and Mickelson is
spectacular—but when Tiger is on his game no one comes close to his
chipping and pitching.

I’m not predicting a win. There’s going to be some rust—how could
there not be—but I expect him to play well, as well as we’ve seen
in a long time. (The Masters is a special case because he’ll always be
able to compete on that course.) He’s going to hit some loose shots—that’s inevitable with a hard swing. The important thing is that he
misses correctly. At the height of his game, Tiger could make birdies
and pars with his short game from places no one thought possible. His
problem this year is that he’s been missing in the wrong places,
places where he couldn’t recover from.

It’s strange see Tiger at a Fall Series event. In a lot of ways, it’s
like 1996 all over again. His critics in the media and the public
aren’t giving him a free pass anymore. Tiger knows a lot of people are
writing him off and I think he feels he has a lot to prove. I’ve been
skeptical based on what I saw earlier in the year. But this is the
perfect scenario: new swing, new caddie, easy tournament. He’s going
out there to get his game back. Those of us who’ve watched him since
his junior golf days want to see signs that he’s going in the right
direction and some flashes of the old Tiger Woods. I don’t want to see
him hitting houses, making poor chips, and missing four-footers. If
that happens again, it’s time to start really worrying.