Tiger Woods Returns At Safeway Open: Is He Really Ready This Time?

According to USA Today, Tiger Woods announced on Wednesday he would most likely be returning to competitive golf at the Safeway Open next month. Given that it seemed only a few months ago that Woods was seriously contemplating retiring from golf entirely, his apparent intention of returning this fall for the Safeway Open, the Turkish Airlines Open, and the Woods Invitational is all the more surprising.

Woods’ return at the Safeway Open follows a lengthy hiatus from golf by a man who was once considered almost unbeatable. During the supremacy of Tiger Woods, most of the other players were, at best, playing for second place.

Of course, Woods has had his ups and downs. Injuries, changes to his swing, and personal concerns in his private life frequently interfered with his effectiveness on the golf course. Twice now, Tiger has managed to turn things around. But truth be told, neither of these revived versions of Tiger Woods were quite as dominant as the young Tiger of the late 1990s and early 2000s who won open after open.

Masters and U.S. Open Champion Tiger Woods hits his first shot on the 10th hole during the final round of the PGA Grand Slam of Golf on November 27, 2002. [Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images]

It’s hard to deny that “Young Tiger” may have been the greatest player golf has ever seen. While other players, such as Palmer and Nicholas, have been dominant in the sport at particular opens and for a limited span of time, no one has ever so completely overwhelmed his competition for as long – and as consistently – as Tiger Woods did during his early years.

But Woods hasn’t played competitive golf since August of last year. This was the Wyndham Championship, which Davis Love III took for the third time. In fact, Tiger only appeared 11 times last year, and his showing was abysmal. Out of those 11, Tiger either missed the cut or withdrew five times. In fact, Tiger earned less than $500,000 last year on the golf course. This for a man whose career earnings are over $109 million.

Is it likely that the Safeway Open is going to give us another revived Tiger Woods, or will we get the physically debilitated and psychologically damaged Tiger we’ve become so familiar with recently? As pointed out by the Washington Post, an objective look at Tiger Woods’ game as it is today, his physical problems, his age, and the competition he faces makes it highly unlikely that Tiger can get back to being even an average player, let alone the dominant figure he once was.

While Tiger is now claiming that his rehabilitation is complete, his hesitation to flatly state that he definitely will be at the Safeway Open — he’s left the door open that he won’t — would seem to suggest that Woods himself has doubts about his physical game. Of course, given that golf is a mental game as well, such doubts can easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The other problem for Tiger at the Safeway Open – or the other two events he’s considering this year – is that the sport has changed tremendously in recent years. In the old days, no one could drive off the tee the way Tiger could. These days, there are any number of players who could give Young Tiger a run for his money in this area. This is something Old Tiger can’t say.

And of course, age is the other factor to consider when contemplating Tiger’s return at the Safeway Open. Tiger hasn’t won a major since 2008. That’s starting to be a very long time ago. While Tiger could hardly be called an old man, in the game of golf, he is well past his prime.

With all of this stacked against him, the question isn’t whether Tiger can beat Jack’s record or win another major or even whether he can win the Safeway Open. The question should be whether Tiger can ever again play well enough not to embarrass himself.

[Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images]

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