Look, I get it. The news out of Tiger Town is not all rosy. You’ve already heard the naysayers trotting out the reasons Woods won’t play well at TPC Harding Park this week: It’ll be too cold. The rough will be too long. He hasn’t played enough. It’ll be a repeat of his MC at Bethpage at the PGA a year ago.
But fear not! We’re here to lay out Tiger’s blueprint for success. If the greatest major champion of this generation is going to add No. 16 to the mantle this week, it’s going to require a few things falling into place. Here are five reasons to stay hopeful.
1. He’s there early
The last time Tiger Woods won a major championship, as a few of you may recall, came at the 2019 Masters. You may also recall that Woods rolled into town early that week. Since his victory, there have been a few eyewitness accounts that have leaked out of watching Woods, caddie Joe LaCava and right-hand man Rob McNamara walk nine holes at Augusta National the Sunday before the tournament, carrying just a wedge and a putter, getting a proper feel for the place.
The good news here is that Woods arrived at TPC Harding Park for a practice round yesterday, joined for part of it by Jason Dufner, which seems like some sort of zen experience in itself. Woods was sweatered up but officially coronavirus-free as he played the back nine followed by the front nine. That’s all 18, folks. The sign of a big week to come.
2. He’ll be cold, but not too cold
I don’t think there’s any question that Woods wishes it was going to be a bit warmer this week in San Francisco. He has talked extensively about how much better he moves in balmy conditions, and he would have welcomes 80 degrees and sunny with open arms. But the last time he won, at Narashino Country Club in Japan, it was hardly roasting, either, and he led after every single round.
A quick forecast check reveals that this week’s event is going to be contended mostly in the 50s and 60s. Thursday and Friday’s highs are around 67 degrees, Saturday gets up to 69 and Sunday gets up to 70. If Tiger shoots the temperature each day — 67-67-69-70 — that’ll be a heck of a week.
The more relevant number may be the low temperature, which gets down to the mid-50s each night. Woods will presumably play one morning tee time and one afternoon tee time on Thursday and Friday. He’ll need to survive that chilly morning session and capitalize on the afternoon warmth.
3. He’s fresh
If Woods doesn’t play well this week, plenty of critics will make the case that he should have played more in the lead-up to the year’s first major championship. But his most recent victory suggests the opposite.
Before the 2019 Zozo Championship, Woods’ last two starts had come in a WD at the Northern Trust and a T37 at the BMW. Neither showing inspired confidence in Woods’ form nor in his durability. When he showed back up 10 weeks later for a brand-new PGA Tour event in Japan, most golf fans and media members assumed Woods would be rusty. You saw what happened after that.
Take a peek even further back to the 2019 Masters. In the weeks leading up the the event, Woods skipped both Honda and Bay Hill, which felt somewhat concerning at the time. When he slipped on the green jacket six weeks later? Not so much. A fresh, healthy Woods can compete any course, any time.
4. He’s got good memories here
Is there a stat for Strokes Gained: Vibes? Woods would do well at TPC Harding Park, even if his experience is ancient history at this point.
In 2005, Woods outlasted John Daly for the WGC-American Express title when Daly missed a short par putt to extend their playoff after the two posted matching scores of 10-under 270.
Four years later, Woods put together perhaps his best-ever team performance when the Presidents Cup came to town. He and Steve Stricker went 4-0-0 in their team matches, winning a combined 16-up before drubbing Y.E. Yang 6&5 in Sunday’s singles matches. Yang, you’ll recall, had taken down Tiger just weeks earlier at the PGA Championship.
Woods has no one-on-one scores to settle this week, but he does have more than enough incentive to throw down his best effort — and some positive memories, too.
5. He’s Tiger Woods
There was a moment at the beginning of the Memorial where Woods jumped out to a 2-under start through three holes and looked to be completely dialed in and everyone, collectively, wondered why we’d doubted his abilities upon comeback.
The start turned out to be too good to be true, but it was a reminder that if you keep doubting Tiger Woods, he’s likely to ultimately make you look very foolish.
The oddsmakers have dropped Woods significantly behind the favorites. They’ve been thinking the same things as the aforementioned doubters. Temperatures too cold. Rough too long. Not enough reps. On DraftKings, Woods is listed at 33-1, just behind Daniel Berger (30-1) and behind nine other golfers. That makes sense, I suppose. But if Woods gets out to a hot start on Thursday, keeps the ball in the fairway and starts doing the things that he tends to do with his irons and putter, look out.
There’s life in the old Tiger yet.