Tiger Woods played great in his clinching singles match against Aaron Baddeley at last week’s Presidents Cup. He played so great that it’s tempting to pronounce that Tiger has returned from his slump and will soon retake his rightful place as the world’s No. 1 golfer. However, we just don’t have enough evidence to say that yet.
Don’t get me wrong. Tiger is going in the right direction. He played well on a difficult Royal Melbourne course, and except for one round he was excellent at the Australian Open the week before. I’ve been hearing that he’s been having a lot of 36-hole and 54-hole practice days, and that’s just what he needs to get in tournament form. If Tiger is healthy and playing often, he’ll be good with whatever swing he uses — he can’t help it — but we shouldn’t read too much into how Tiger played at the Presidents Cup and the Australian Open.
The first reason is that the Presidents Cup is a match-play event. Remember how he dusted Francesco Molinari at the 2012 Ryder Cup? That didn’t mark the beginning of Tiger’s comeback. In fact, things got worse the following year. If I were picking someone to play one match, I’d choose Tiger 100 times before I picked another guy. With his six USGA amateur match-play titles (three U.S. Junior Amateurs and three U.S. Amateurs), he might be the best match-play golfer in history. In match play, Tiger is always going to find a way to compete no matter how he’s striking the ball.
The other reason not to overreact to Tiger’s play in Australia is that the tournaments weren’t that important. Let’s be honest. The Presidents Cup is nothing like the Ryder Cup, which inspires so much passion and bad blood. The Presidents Cup is exactly what it was intended to be, an exhibition of sportsmanship to promote the game globally. That’s admirable, but as a gauge of where Tiger’s game is, the Presidents Cup is pretty meaningless.
We all know that Tiger keeps score with major championships, and until we see him execute his new swing under major pressure, we won’t know if the changes have worked. The true test is whether he can rely on his swing under the pressure of a major on Sunday. Sure, he looks a lot more comfortable with his swing changes now, but they haven’t been tested by fire yet. I don’t think we can make any judgments based on a couple of decent rounds in Australia.
If you’re a Tiger fan like I am, there were reasons for optimism last week. For one, he looked healthy and he was moving around the course better. I thought his short game looked better. The putting wasn’t totally there — I saw him miss an important putt low that he would have made a much better run at before — but these things will come in time. He also looks like he’s having fun. It was telling to see Tiger and Mickelson yukking it up. In the past, Tiger wouldn’t let his guard down like that, at least not publicly. It’s nice to see Tiger animated and enjoying the team camaraderie.
So when will we know if Tiger is back? Everything we know about Tiger tells us he’s focused on April 2012. It ought to be fun to watch. Everybody loves a comeback story, but this one hasn’t really started yet.
This column originally appeared in Golf Magazine's weekly Front9 app. To keep up with the latest golf news, get great tips from the Top 100 Teachers in America, and weekly Rules Guy columns, download the Front9 app at the Apple iTunes store. A lifetime subscription is $2.99.