Tour Confidential: What should we expect from Tiger Woods’ return?
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, we discuss Tiger Woods’ PNC return, new PGA Tour viewing options and our dream lesson.
1. Tiger Woods will make his 2021 debut in the last event of the year. About 10 months after a single-car crash in which he sustained multiple leg injuries, Woods announced that he will play in next week’s parent-child PNC Championship with his son, Charlie. What are your expectations for the 15-time major champion?
Sean Zak, senior editor (@sean_zak): I predict a bunch of smiling from the Woods family. I don’t think we’ll learn much more from Woods. He’ll hit some great shots, I’m sure. Probably show some rust, too.
James Colgan, assistant editor (@jamescolgan26): My expectations are for a social media frenzy, a metric ton of absurdly overeager proclamations and a handful of awkward moments in press conferences. That much seems ironclad. On the course, though? We know Team Woods will be using plenty of Charlie’s tee balls. Other than that, it’s anybody’s guess.
Nick Piastowski, senior editor (@nickpia): I’m expecting he’ll play well when he does hit — I mentioned a few weeks back that he wouldn’t enter an event looking like a hack, and I think that holds up even for the PNC. But I’m more expecting a lot more of the feel-good moments with Charlie that we saw last year, which will be a nice way to close out the golf year.
Tim Reilly, social media director (@LifeOfTimReilly): We’ll see plenty of smiles from Tiger, mostly stemming from what Charlie does on the course. I know this week is all about Tiger in our eyes, but it will be all about Charlie in Tiger’s eyes.
Dylan Dethier, senior writer (@dylan_dethier): My expectations are that he’ll hit as few drives as possible, walk as few steps as possible and shoot as low a team score as possible. I expect his swing speed will be lower than we’re used to but higher than Woods has implied. I expect he’ll have a well-honed short game and a less consistent game off the tee. I expect the atmosphere will be slightly wilder than last year’s low-fans event. I expect a whole bunch of people will watch.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer: He said he is playing as a “Dad.” In this instance, I take him at his word.
2. Is there any particular part of his game, physical condition or demeanor that will most have your attention?
Zak: I will pay attention to his pedometer. I wanna see how many steps he takes. Couldn’t care less about his short game. Will he walk for nine holes? In and out of a cart? That’s the thing we don’t know much about.
Colgan: Agreed, Zak. I’m also interested to see how far Tiger is poking his driver. He made a few vague comments at the Hero World Challenge about his ball “falling out of the sky” a lot shorter than it used to, but I’m curious how much shorter he means.
Piastowski: The speed of his swing and the speed of his walk. I guess that’s a combination of Sean’s and James’ answers. He mentioned at the Hero that going at his “old speed” on his swing would be a risk, so I’m curious just far he dials it back — especially with the cameras on. And it did seem during the times he was on camera at the Hero that he was walking a little gingerly, so I’m curious to see how things hold up, even with the use of a cart.
Reilly: I’ll be keeping an eye on Tiger’s personal expectations. Will he put pressure on himself at the level we’re accustomed to seeing? Or will he be able to laugh it off when JT is bombing the ball past him off the tee? I’m most intrigued to see his demeanor after hitting shots that aren’t up to his typical standard.
Dethier: These guys have touched on the two biggies: His swing speed and his ability to walk. These are still early days, relatively speaking. It’s all still gravy, really.
Bamberger: I will be interested to see how he coaches Charlie. Last year, he almost always let Charlie do his own thing, with almost no fatherly input. It was deeply impressive.
3. Woods still has a long way to go in his recovery (he said he’s not even halfway through his rehab), but what would you need to see from him for you to feel encouraged that we may see him in a Tour event next year?
Zak: Does his back seem healthy? I think there’s a reality in which his lower body could continue progressing and his back might still keep him from playing well. So, is his ginger gait exclusively a result of his lower body, or is the back still ailing him too?
Colgan: Honestly? I hope we’re able to see he’s recovered to the point he can live a reasonably healthy life. If he’s got any golf left in him, well that’s just extra.
Piastowski: Is he swinging it the same way on hole 18 on Sunday as he is on hole 1 on Saturday? I think we’ll see him making some shots, but I’ll be curious to see how things hold up over two days.
Reilly: I don’t need to see anything from his game. I have no doubts Tiger’s swing will be just fine, and his golf IQ isn’t going anywhere. We won’t learn much about what really matters this week since Tiger will be riding around in a cart. Until we see Tiger walk a course for four rounds in competition, it’s hard to really gauge anything. One milestone at a time. Let’s just be grateful that we’re getting to see Tiger play in the PNC with Charlie and we’ll take it from there.
Dethier: I’ll be curious to hear how he describes his own progress. I’d be surprised if he’s anything but cautionary, but if he expresses any optimism, the entire golf world will go wild.
Bamberger: I don’t think there’s anything that we would really be able to see in this kind of setting. If he is ever going to be a serious tournament golfer again, even if it’s only half a dozen times a year, there will have to be something going on deep within him that this event could not trigger, I don’t think.
4. This week, ESPN+ and the PGA Tour announced an enormous expansion of the tour’s digital product as part of its new streaming rights deal. The expansion will see the total number of coverage hours more than triple in 2022, expanding the Tour’s streaming product on a previously unthinkable scale. Under the new setup, ESPN+ will broadcast four live feeds for each tournament, adding three new feeds to expand upon PGA Tour Live’s previous “featured group” coverage. With mics and cameras now covering far more shots, do you see this changing the game in any way?
Zak: It’ll give us more highlights, I guess. We’ll be introduced to more voices via more broadcasts. The gambling sickos and biggest Tour fans will have more golf to watch, but I don’t see it greatly altering the product in any way.
Colgan: Disagree, Seany!!! In 2022, the Tour is tripling its streaming volume. That’s a huge deal for golf fans. Not that they were necessarily clamoring for a fourth stream from round three at the Greater Toledo Open — but I truly believe we won’t know the full value of the additional golf until we have it. And another, hugely underrated factor? Jumping to one of the world’s preeminent sports streaming platforms with ESPN breaks down one of the Tour’s biggest barriers to entry. Not only will there be more golf for casual fans to see, it’ll be DRASTICALLY easier for them to get it. That’s a massive win.
Piastowski: I’m interested to see what more cameras and mics over more hours mean for those players in the early morning tee times on Thursdays and Fridays. More TV might take a while for those players to adjust.
Reilly: More coverage of the game is a good thing. The number one complaint you see across Golf Twitter each week is in regard to coverage gaps and not being able to watch all the action. Introducing new microphones is what’s more intriguing to me. The most interesting things that happen on a golf course are the conversations between player and caddie. Give us more of that. Much more.
Dethier: There are nearly 20 million subscribers to ESPN+ who will now have access to an upgraded golf product. That’s a massive audience. Sure, most won’t watch — but what if a few of ’em do?!
Bamberger: This must be a nod to the growing gambling interest in the PGA Tour. To a gambler, you can never have too much information, or too much access. So the broadcast ultimately will be geared toward the people who most want it. The gamblers.
5. On SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio this week, Padraig Harrington said that he believed that Bryson DeChambeau’s power game is being modeled by junior players and that soon enough there will be a field of DeChambeaus. “What is interesting is that’s gonna be a dime a dozen in 10 year’s time. If you go on your social media, there’s kids 16, 17 years of age who are cruising at 200 mph ball speed. Eventually, some of them — there’s gonna be 10 of them, 20 of them, 30 of them on Tour in 15 year’s time, 10 year’s time.” What do you think? Will DeChambeau emulators soon be running rampant on the Tour?
Zak: Speed demons will run rampant. A la Wilco Nienaber or Cameron Champ. The thing that will remain in doubt is … will they win like Bryson? Champ hasn’t exactly dominated the Tour. Nienaber hasn’t even played much on Tour. Speed helps increase winning opportunities, but the rest of the game finishes the job.
Colgan: Teenagers terrify me, and if they’re modeling their golf games after Bryson, well, that just terrifies me even more. Still have to putt, though. And hit wedges. Something tells me the next generation of tour stars will probably consist of the folks who can do everything well, just as the previous 10 generations have.
Piastowski: Yes, especially if Bryson starts winning more, which Harrington also thought can happen anytime he tees it up. It’s a copycat league. And I’ll go out on a limb and say there will be better Brysons — he’ll do the leg work, no pun intended, and those that follow won’t have to go through the various ups and downs he’s experienced with this experiment.
Reilly: Tiger is responsible for this generation of golfers swinging harder than ever, and hitting it further than ever. If Bryson keeps winning, he will do the same for the next generation.
Dethier: For sure, 100 percent, without a doubt. Every generation of golfers has hit it further than the generation before it, and we’ve seen just how effective the long ball can be. It will take a few years before 200 mph ball speed is commonplace on Tour, but the kids in high school and college are going to play an entirely different level of power game.
Bamberger: I thought after Tiger came on the scene that all golfers on Tour would be well over 6 feet tall. They’re not. Some golfers will find their way to the game’s most elite levels by going down the Bryson Expressway. Many will not. Women will not. Well, some will. But many won’t.
6. World No. 1 Nelly Korda recently gave our Zephyr Melton a putting lesson. (Check it out here.) If you could get a lesson from one player, focusing exclusively on one part of your game, who are you choosing and why?
Zak: 15-foot green reading and putting from Tiger or Inbee Park. Both assassins at their peak.
Colgan: Literally anyone who can teach me ANYTHING from inside of 100 yards, but if we’re picking favorites, I suppose a Phil Mickelson short game lesson wouldn’t hurt.
Piastowski: Since every part of my game needs work, I’d love to sit down with Lee Trevino for an hour and talk all of the ins and outs of the swing. He breaks golf down in such an easy way that I know that I’d come out at least five shots better than when I came in.
Reilly: Fred Couples. Tempo. Please.
Dethier: At the risk of being too obvious, I’d take a speed lesson from Bryson DeChambeau. That dude bombs it. And he’s worked pretty hard to do so, too.
Bamberger: Tiger. How to plot your way around the course, with the skill set you have.