Tour Confidential: What letter grade would you give Tiger’s return?

January 29, 2018 conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.

1. You might have heard that Tiger Woods made his much-anticipated return to the PGA Tour at this week’s Farmers Insurance Open. Woods shot 72-71-70-72 and finished T23 while seeing his first weekend tee times on the Tour since the 2015 Wyndham Championship. Give Tiger your letter grade, and how did his play match up with your expectations entering the week?

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, (@Jeff_Ritter): Tiger’s return last month at the Bahamas was a feel-good birdie-fest on a gettable course against a small field. Torrey was the real deal. I expected him to be rusty and figured he was 50-50 to make the cut. Tiger’s play wasn’t always pretty — in fact, it was rarely pretty — but he survived the cut and despite playing the better part of four rounds out of the rough pulled out a top-25 finish. You can pick away at individual parts of his game that need improvement, but this week, on this course, I give him a solid A.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): I said last week that I thought he’d finish right around the cut line, and that he’d hit enough good shots to give the optimists cause for hope and enough poor ones to give the doubters cause for skepticism. That’s pretty much how I think it played out. I’d give him a C- for ball-striking and an A for his short game. B overall.

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): C’mon, Josh! I would have never finished college if I have had as tough a professor as you. I’m grading on a curve here. Giant anticipation and expectations, and Tiger held his own. A ton of optimism for his first time out in ages. B+ for ball-striking (given his tournament rustiness and a hard, narrow setup) and A+ for recoveries and getting the ball in the hole.

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: A for effort.

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): I’d give him a B+. I thought he’d finish top 20, so he scored about what I thought he would score. What amazed me was how he did it.

2. What most surprised you about Tiger’s play, and what most concerns you?

Ritter: I didn’t expect him to hit only 30 percent of his fairways. Most weeks, that kind of number leads to an early flight home. But by the same token, I would never expect him to drive it so wildly and still crack the top 25. He still found a way to post a score, which is one of the hallmarks of the Tiger of old. I have no idea where this comeback is going to go, but overall I’m encouraged.

Sens: I thought we’d see a lot of short game hiccups. But his short game was what saved him from some pretty ratty play from tee to green.

Passov: After his performance with the driver at the Hero in the Bahamas, I thought I’d see more fairways hit. Many tee shots that he missed at the Farmers, he missed by a lot. Yet, he had to stick with the driver because it’s such a bomber’s course. His play around the greens and his putting were both superb.

Bamberger: His putting was excellent. His full swings are so mechanical, barely a cousin to what they once were.

Wood: Honestly, the fact that he was able to put up a decent score with what could only be described as very poor ball-striking was huge to me in terms of his prospects moving forward. Torrey Pines, especially the three rounds on the South, is a capital B Big Boy golf course. It usually doesn’t allow a good score to be shot without most facets of your game at least slightly above average. The fact that Tiger was able to shoot very solid scores with his ‘D’ game was so impressive. He fought. He found a way. I think it’ll be much easier for him to find the more athletic swing he had in the Bahamas at the Hero than it would have been for him to fix a faulty short game.

3. Woods never sniffed the lead but kept his name near the top half of the leaderboard for most of the weekend, and who knows which Tiger we will see in the foreseeable future. But if he continues to remain a middle-of-the-pack golfer will he still absorb spotlight until he retires?

Ritter: I mean, a middle-of-the pack golfer on today’s Tour still occasionally contends and maybe even wins once a year. If Tiger returns to that level, he will absolutely absorb the spotlight. Golf has a ton of great stories and compelling young players, but his comeback attempt is story 1A until further notice.

Sens: Tiger will always be worthy of a cutaway clip, even if he’s not leading down the stretch. But we won’t see this kind of frenzied build up and live coverage unless he starts winning, or at least contending again. It’s like shooting under par while hitting less than one-in-four fairways: you can only sustain it for so long.

Passov: Why speculate after one tournament back? Give him three or four or five events and let’s see where he is. In his post-round chat with Dottie, he seemed delighted with his finish this week, even as he said he had work to do in every phase of his game.

Bamberger: Not the spotlight, but a spotlight. He will always be Tiger Woods. Anybody who knows anything will say, “There’s the guy who won a U.S. Open by 15.” Like Ted Williams wanted people to say of him, “There goes the greatest hitter who ever lived.”

Wood: Yes. Love Michael’s line above. Anyone who showed us what he did for all those years will garner a huge part of the spotlight until he is done. When he tees it up, there will always be a spark in the air unlike one anyone else can provide. Back in his prime, I would argue that Tiger was the best at every aspect of the game: physically, mentally, emotionally. But he also was far ahead of any other player in Strokes Gained: Magic. Strictly speaking as a fan, I can see a day where I possibly don’t believe in his driving or his putting or his health, etc., but I cannot fathom a day ever coming where I don’t believe in Tiger’s magic.

4. Jason Day, winless since the 2016 Players Championship, withdrew from the Farmers Pro-Am with a sore back yet got himself into a playoff on Sunday (and later beat Alex Noren to win on Monday). Was Day’s week at Torrey Pines a trend or mirage when it comes to his prospects?

Ritter: I think a combination of injuries and off-course distractions, including his mother’s health and wife’s miscarriage, caused Day to drift last year. And frankly it’s understandable. Injuries will always be a concern, and hopefully his family is well, but if he’s able to stay on the course Torrey could be the start of a comeback season.

Sens: Jeff says it well. He needs to stay healthy. It all starts with that.

Passov: I’m in accord, here. After his long run in the top three, I thought he had an unlimited run in him to continue. But wow — he has experienced a variety of unusual misfortunes in the past few years, both on and off the course. He’s such a dynamic player, with his length and touch, I want to see him back again. Hopefully, this week at Torrey is indeed a trend. At least I’m rooting for it.

Bamberger: Can’t be a mirage. The courses are hard. You play 72 holes at 10 under you are very good at golf.

Wood: I have no idea. Jason’s talent is undeniable, off the charts. What will determine if this is a trend or a mirage is all about health, and his ability to handle any further obstacles.

5. While standing in the fairway on the par-5 18th during the final round of the Farmers, J.B. Holmes took several minutes — 4 minutes, 10 seconds, according to Golf Channel — to play his second shot. Holmes, who was eight under and two behind clubhouse leader Jason Day, needed an eagle to force a playoff. Holmes spent those several minutes weighing his decision and seemingly waiting for the wind to die down, and after a while the crowd let him hear about the long delay. What’s more is that playing partner Alex Noren, who was tied for the lead, was inadvertently “iced” by Holmes’ slow play and had to wait to hit his second shot. (Holmes eventually laid up, made birdie and missed the playoff by one.) Many had an issue with Holmes, including a few pros, but do you think he made a major ethical error here?

Ritter: All tournaments grind at a slower pace in those final groups on Sunday, but 4 minutes to play a shot — from the fairway! — is over the line. I look forward to Holmes receiving a swift and severe punishment from the Tour to ensure he learns his lesson. Oh, wait…

Sens: A rigidly enforced shot clock is long overdue on Tour. (And in all play, frankly.) The dilly-dallying J.B. did was a glaring reminder as to why.

Passov: So late in the game, I’m more tolerant for some indecision and delay. Wind blowing, lots of considerations, all that. But I draw the line here, because I did get the feeling that Noren was “iced” by Holmes’ tardiness, and that ain’t right. Yes, major ethical error here — needs a fine, and something more.

Bamberger: A joke. Play the shot. Be aware of other people. That’s a central ethic of the game.

Wood: Nothing to add to what everyone else has posted. Had I been Noren’s caddie, I would have been seething inside. It would have been a most difficult job to remain calm, not say anything, and keep your player in a good frame of mind when it finally was his turn to play.

6. Next up, the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Much has been written about its raucous par-3 16th hole, but what’s your suggestion for making the 16th even more outrageous?

Ritter: I think it’s currently the right level of crazy, but I’ve noticed there is currently no Tilt-a-Whirl or water slide, so some options are out there. In fact, I’m a little surprised the 16th hole hasn’t adopted a gimmick from the crosstown Arizona Diamondbacks and stuck a spectator swimming pool in the bleachers. There’s still time.

Sens: Fans get to press a button and administer electric shocks to anyone who misses the green. I dunno. As Jeff says, seems the right level of loony. And it’s good that it’s just once a year.

Passov: Well, they’ve painted all the grandstands white this year. Hard to ask for more than that. Except maybe for free booze.

Bamberger: Offer a free round of golf to anybody who makes a hole in one with a colored ball. Cut the hole in the shape of a clown’s nose. It’s awful.

Wood: Would I want to experience a scene like this every week? No. But once a year, I think it’s awesome. There’s not much I’d change about it now, except for the guarantee that the PGA Tour continues to use the up-left tee (the one nearest the big group of guys with research and songs) on Saturday, along with the front-left hole location. I think that hole is at its best when there is a real chance for a hole-in-one, when most guys are hitting gap and sand wedges to a fairly accessible pin. The roars are always more fun than the boos, and I think the fans would agree. One Saturday a few years ago, whoever set up the hole on Saturday threw the pin deep into the green near the right edge, set the tees as far back on the tee as they could and knew there would be a 20-mph wind all day into the players’ faces. You barely heard a roar all day long. For Saturday at least, as The Kinks sang, Give the people what they want.