Date: January 24, 2018
Author: Martin Blake

Countdown over: Tiger’s comeback is on

Tiger Woods has won eight times in professional tournaments at Torrey Pines in San Diego, including the 2008 US Open but not to mention a world junior championship at 15 years of age. It is an appropriate stage for one of the greatest of all time to make his tournament encore.

The time is 5.40am (Australian eastern daylight saving time) tomorrow and while some have tired of the various Woods comebacks, many more will be watching, bleary-eyed. He will play alongside Patrick Reed and Charley Hoffman on the south course, in a group guaranteed to have a substantial gallery.

Woods merely had to walk on to the practice tee at Torrey on Tuesday and there was a flurry of social media activity: uploaded videos of his swing to go with the truckloads of analysis and crystal-balling about what may or may not happen.

None of it counts for much anymore. What everyone needs is for Woods to tee it up, play the tournament and then show that he can back it up after his spinal fusion surgery last year. It is the first time he has played a proper tournament for 12 months; the exhibition in the Bahamas last month where he surprised most observers was encouraging, but this is a step up.

Certainly the tournament organisers are happy that they have the world spotlight upon them this week. The tournament director reported a 40 percent increase in online activity surrounding the event this year. Just about everyone is pleased to see the 42-year-old back playing and apparently pain-free after his surgery, not least the defending champion and world No. 2 John Rahm, who had some interesting things to say to the media during the week.

Rahm won last week and is now threatening to overtake Dustin Johnson as world No. 1, and he was scarcely shying away from a future meeting with Mr Woods. “To be honest, I think a lot of us dreamt about having the opportunity to maybe walk the back nine with Tiger in contention and have a battle hand in hand,” he said. “It would be something amazing for any of us. I hope it happens for somebody. I hope I'm the one, and quite truly I hope I come out on top if it happens.”

So for Woods, a made cut would be a plus. Everyone needs to remind themselves how little tournament golf he has played, and how long it is since he was last dominant. The game has moved on, and other players have moved past him. But doubtless if his back remains sound, he can become a factor again at some point. It might just take a while.

There are a bunch of Australians in the field, including the top-ranked Marc Leishman and Jason Day, who practised with Woods on Tuesday. Cameron Davis, who won the Emirates Australian Open, is also playing in just his second tour event.

But this week, they’re not going to get much attention unless they win. It’s the Tiger Show. And why not?