Tour Confidential: With Tiger now hitting driver, will he return sooner than expected?

October 15, 2017 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. Tiger Woods’s latest health update came on Sunday, this time via a tweet of a nine-second video of himself hitting driver with the caption “Making Progress.” It was just last week we saw him hitting irons. Is he closer to returning than we think?

John Wood, caddie for Matt Kuchar (@johnwould): If he’s hitting drivers I’d say yes. I doubt he will play in his tournament, the Hero World Challenge, but that sure would be a nice surprise to everyone. Lord knows Joe LaCava needs the distraction with his Yankees in a 2-0 hole and his NY Football Giants, ah, floundering. If not there I’d expect him to be ready for the West Coast swing, or what I call “the start of the 2018 season.”

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): No. Unless you mean as a ceremonial starter at the Masters.

Sean Zak, associate editor, (@Sean_Zak): The minute I saw him hitting full 4-irons, my immediate thought was “that must mean driver isn’t far away.” I also cursed in exclamatory form, because I’ve ridden this merry-go-round too many damn times. If Tiger hasn’t changed, he’s thinking about the 2018 majors and how he needs to get in golf shape and how he needs to hit the ball a certain way—yadda, yadda. yadda. All of that tells me the Hero is possible and January events even more so. If you can’t tell, I’m scared.

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): I’m not holding my breath. Even if you set aside the multiple physical woes he’s been dealing with, there’s the mental side of the game, and Tiger’s hasn’t been healthy for some time now. As Seve said, and Arnie, too, once you lose the edge… I wonder whether Tiger is willing to put himself out there if he’s not convinced he has a chance to win. And he really no longer sounds convinced.

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, (@Jeff_Ritter): I don’t know if he’ll make it back to the Tour, but moving to driver is another sign he’s giving this comeback a shot. You know, there are still two open spots in the Hero World Challenge field…

2. While America was sleeping, Pat Perez won the CIMB Classic in Malaysia by four shots to claim his first PGA Tour victory since November 2016. Perez has had quite the career resurrection over the past 11 months, winning twice after his first career victory came way back in 2009. The player he beat Sunday, major champ Keegan Bradley, also notched his best finish since 2014 on Sunday. Who, in the mold of Perez, is primed to be the comeback player of the 2017-18 season?

Wood: That’s awfully difficult criteria; there just aren’t many in the refreshing mold of Perez anymore. There are quite a few candidates for comebacks, but I’ll go with Geoff Ogilvy. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but he seemed like he was looking at golf from a fresh perspective as an assistant at the Presidents Cup, and that could put him in a good frame of mind to play really well again.

Sens: If you believe what you see on social media, there’s a certain former World No. 1 who has been posting videos of himself hitting smooth iron shots in Florida. His return would be the most newsworthy of comebacks. Meanwhile, though, back here in reality, neither Rory McIlroy nor Adam Scott has exactly dropped off the map. But they’ve been struggling by their standards, so a return to the form we expect of them would amount to a big bounce.

Zak: Relatively speaking, Shane Lowry has dropped off since his 2016 U.S. Open and that 2015 WGC-Bridgestone title. Losing the U.S. Open kind of shook him a bit — just one top 10 in his 21 Tour starts since — and he’s even admitted to that. In a Ryder Cup year, I see his supreme talent taking over again and pushing him back into the top 50.

Shipnuck: Can I pick Keegan? He’s been trending in the right direction for a year-plus. Luke Donald, too.

Ritter: Keegan is probably my first choice, too, but Ryan Moore had an oddly silent season and should bounce back. I also think Brandt Snedeker can move a rung up the ladder if he can just stay healthy for 12 straight months.

3. After his win, the always-candid Perez said, “I’m not going to change anything. I’m still not going to workout. I’m still going to have a bad diet and I’m going to enjoy myself.” Is Perez an outlier, or is he evidence that his peers might also benefit from taking a slightly more laissez-faire approach to the game?

Wood: He’s more of an outlier I’d say. He’s found what works for him, and it wouldn’t work for everyone. People play their best golf when they are the same person on the course as they are off the course. Their inside-the-ropes personality is the same as their outside-the-ropes personality. But I couldn’t be happier for Pat and his completely underrated caddie Mike Hartford. Not many know his name, but for my money he’s one of the best out here.

Shipnuck: He’s proof that you gotta do what works best for you and not try to be something you’re not. Some guys need to grind to feel prepared, some would do a lot better if they didn’t push so hard.

Sens: John and Alan have summed it up well. To each his own. I spent the entire day scarfing Cheetos and chugging Jack Daniels in preparation for this discussion. I don’t believe that would work for many of the fitness freaks on this panel.

Ritter: Josh, when you’re ready, they now make an extra hot brand of Cheetos that will really get your answers moving (among other things).

Zak: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. (You hear that, Rory.)

4. Matt Parziale, a firefighter by day, won the U.S. Mid-Amateur last week to earn a spot in next year’s U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and Masters. Parziale played on the mini-tours for a few years but regained his amateur status in 2013. In fact, according to the USGA, 43 percent of the Mid-Am field consisted of reinstated amateurs. Do you have an issue with former pros taking on full-time amateurs?

Wood: Gosh, I had no idea the number was that high. I’ve never really thought about it before, but I think I do. None of those guys are breaking any rules and have just played within the system, but that tournament in particular always felt like one for the public course guys, the guys who played collegiate golf but that was it. To have to compete against guys who did it for a living for a time, not sure about that one.

Shipnuck: Huge issue. Amateur status should be like virginity—once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Pros by definition have spent thousands of hours working on their games and played in more pressure-packed situations. I don’t think it’s fair to let them compete against true ams.

Zak: It’s tricky for obvious reasons, like the definition of a “pro.” We’ve got one on staff at now, and I think I’d have a hard time labeling him with that “pro” status. That being said, I think it’s becoming more of an issue the more that majors and significant event placement has become a prize for winning these “amateur” events. That doesn’t seem to be going away, so the mid-am could certainly seem like an unlikely backdoor into those prestigious events.

Sens: I’m with Alan here. The rules that allow pros to regain amateur status trace to a different time when the talent line between the two was blurrier. When you cross it now, you’ve leapt over a much wider divide.

Ritter: Agreed. For all the problems that exist in NCAA sports, they have one rule that more or less makes sense: once you sign with an agent and declare yourself a professional, there’s no going back.

5. President Donald Trump, at 71 years old, shot 73 in “windy and wet conditions” at a 6,800-yard course at Trump National Golf Club last week according to his playing partner, Sen. Lindsey Graham. Graham later confirmed the story and gave details to our Michael Bamberger. Even so, do you buy Trump’s score?

Wood: Whoa, I sure do hope it’s true. With everything else completely buttoned up in America I hope he’s getting in enough practice time to maintain that kind of game.

Shipnuck: Graham was pretty convincing in his telling, though clearly there were gimmes involved. But 6,800 yards in the cold and wind is soooo much golf course for an old, obese dude. It strains credulity.

Zak: I’d be shocked if Jack Nicklaus shot 71 from 6,800 yards! Hell no, I don’t buy that score.

Ritter: Fake news.

Sens: I believe it 100 percent. Just as I believe that Barney Frank beat Roger Federer in straight sets last week. True story. Nancy Pelosi even confirmed it.

6. Not all cheating on the golf course is created equal. We published a story last week on the 13 ways people cheat and how guilty they should feel about each transgression. When you’re playing your weekend games with pals or other random hackers, how much “cheating” do you allow? Or is any form of bending the rules enough for you to throw the rule book at a playing partner?

Shipnuck: To each his own. In a casual game I like to play the ball down but I treat OB (and lost balls) as red stakes. In money games we expect the rules to be followed but I can’t remember the last time there was a rules dispute in any round I’ve played. Life is too short, man.

Wood: I agree. Nobody I play with is setting any course records, and it’s OK with me if he takes a mulligan off the first tee or taps down a spike mark; no blood no foul. When I used to go into an equipment trailer to get a new driver built, I’d always tell the guys “build mine using one of the driver heads that failed the conforming test. I’m not playing in any USGA events anytime soon.”

Zak: I act similarly to Shipnuck, but there are a few times each year where I’m playing an uber-competitive best ball against old friends from home. In the past, we’ve always accepted OB as red stakes, but having been on the losing side too many times, my team finally realized that mentality was creating an advantage — slight as it may be — for our opponents. So, this year, we finally played OB as it is deemed by the Rules, and what do you know, we won. The other 95 percent of my rounds are much more casual, though.

Ritter: When I play with my dad and his buddies, they like to negotiate a set number of mulligans — and other rules that will be broken — as we stand on the first tee. Examples: in their groups, anything that hits the pin is considered in, which has produced some incredible “chip-in” birdies over the years. And then there is the Michigan Do-Over (“MDO”): if the entire foursome fails to hit a green on a par 3 and no group is waiting behind you, everyone reloads. It’s a blast. If anyone from the USGA happens to be reading, please consider this my opening appeal for the MDO to be added to the official rule book.

Sens: In the past I played a fair amount with a guy who swept away putts before they were conceded. If the ball dropped, he acted like it counted. If it didn’t, he pretended that he wasn’t trying in the first place so it didn’t count. After a while, though, most of us grow up and stop playing matches against people like that, which is what happened. Now the only cheating I encounter is the group-sanctioned breakfast ball. Oh, and the occasional free drop out of a divot in the fairway. We allow that sometimes, depending on how sorry we feel for the other guy.