Tiger Returns at WGC
by Trevor Whenham - 02/25/2009
Tiger Woods is finally back in action. That has to make golf fans the world over happy, but not nearly as happy as it makes PGA Commissioner Tim Finchem. The PGA without Tiger just frankly isn't that interesting. If you have been living under a rock then you won't know that Tiger hasn't played any golf since winning the U.S. Open in June. He had been playing with a torn ligament in his left knee for 10 months, and he'd also suffered a stress fracture is his left tibia. It took time and surgery to recover from those setbacks. We don't know for sure how ready he is to return to action, but he's obviously healthy enough to make it worth a risk. His return will be in the WGC Accenture Match Play Championship starting Wednesday, a tournament he has won three times and finished second once in the 10-year history of the event. He's the defending champion.
If you are the type of person who likes to occasionally bet on golf then you have to figure out how you are going to deal with the return of the king. It's not an understatement to say that his presence changes pretty much everything about the game. As you get ready for the Match Play, here's a collection of thoughts and tips to help you prepare and select your bets:
This is a good spot for his return - This tournament was built for Woods. He is able to look his opponent in the eye and know what he has to do to beat them. Tiger can win in many spots obviously, but this is as good as any. As importantly, this is a good format for him to ease himself into action. He'll only have to play one round a day for the first three days, and there is a very good chance that they won't go the full length. He only has to focus on beating one player instead of the whole field. It's also much easier to overcome a bad hole or two because each hole starts from scratch.
He was probably ready to come back before now - Woods' second child, Charlie, was born on Feb. 8. He has said recently, as you would expect, that he held off on returning to action until he was sure his wife and son were both comfortable. That timing gave him an extra couple of weeks, and made the timing of his return a bit of a surprise when he announced it. We have learned enough over the years about Tiger to know that there is absolutely no way that he would come back before he felt he was absolutely ready anyway, and that's especially the case when he has such a compelling reason to stay home if he isn't close to perfect. We can't know for sure what is going on in his leg or his head, but the best guess is that he is ready.
There is no real pressure - Tiger thrives on pressure, but he doesn't really need to be under intense pressure right from the start. There is very little pressure here. It's a World Golf Championship event, but it's not viewed as one of the elite events of the year. Beyond that, Tiger has a hundred different excuses to fall back on if things don't go well - the surgery, the rust, the baby. Anything he accomplishes here is a bonus. That's much better than if he had chosen to return for a major.
Tiger left in good form - It was a long time ago, but Tiger was playing very good golf when he was last in action. In the six events he played last year he had four firsts, a second and a fifth. For the first time in a very long time we can be certain that Tiger's swing is in a very good place.
Practice, practice, practice - Tiger was obviously limited in what he could do for much of his time off, but he has now had several months of having nothing to do but practice. Though that can't make up for game action, he has had the chance to tune his game up and work on elements that he hasn't previously been able to work on regularly. For example, he says that his short game is better than it has ever been. If that's even somewhat true, and if he knee can hold up to the strain of hitting his booming tee shots, then it could be like he never left.
There's no hurry - As you can probably tell, I am pretty optimistic about his return. The guy is so good, so focused, and so determined that it is hard to bet against him even though the prices on him are usually so lousy. That doesn't mean, though, that I will be jumping right into betting on him again. I plan to use part or all of this tournament as a test of where he is at. The bracket sets up perfectly for this. His first round opponent, Australian Brendan Jones, has only made the cut n a major once and has had the majority of his success in Japan. In normal circumstances, Tiger would absolutely crush him lifeless. That means that Tiger really only needs to worry about himself, and we can see where he is at. If he looks good, then the next rounds become interesting betting opportunities. If he doesn't then there is always next time.