Tiger Woods finally gets to approach Hero World Challenge as just another golf outing on the schedule

Do you remember when Tiger Woods was cruising around Albany at the 2015 Hero World Challenge in a golf cart? He held that sullen press conference that doubled as basically a wake, and the question of whether he was done and would retire in the next few months was real. 

That wasn’t reactionary, either. Based on how he looked and how he felt and how things had gone the years leading up to that moment, it felt like retirement or stepping away from the game long-term was imminent. It felt as if he thought it was imminent.

“I think everything beyond this will be gravy,” he said at the time from the Bahamas. “If that’s all it entails, then I’ve had a pretty good run.”

That’s basically the precursor to a retirement presser!

Here we are four years later talking about how Tiger just watched a replay of himself winning the Masters with his caddie Joe LaCava. If you would have told me four years ago on this day that in four years I’d be reading that article, I would have chortled, maybe even wheezed. The thought of Tiger playing golf again at that time seemed so absurd, much less winning a major championship.

The Hero World Challenge has often served as a bit of a state of the union backdrop for Woods. There was that press conference in 2015, but there were also attempts to jump-start his upcoming season in 2014, 2016 and 2017. Remember those? We used to watch an 18-man, non-sanctioned event in December wondering what it meant for Woods at the U.S. Open in June. Extrapolating 65s on a resort course in the ocean into three-win years. It was sort of madness, and it wasn’t all that fun to try and find some glimmer of hope for the best to ever tee it up.

Now? Tiger won in his last start out on the PGA Tour. He has a real shot at winning major No. 16 in 2020, and an even better chance to set the all-time wins record at 83. Instead of discussing what his spine angle and ball speed mean on a ridiculously easy course three weeks before Christmas, we get to just enjoy this event. He gets to just enjoy this tournament instead of fielding question after question about his fused bones and restructured swing.

That’s an unbelievable juxtaposition from years gone by.

In the past, we used this tournament in a way it shouldn’t have been used. We tried to bend it and make it our personal lens through which to view Woods and the path laid out in front of him; again, it’s a glorified exhibition in the Bahamas in December. Guys are competitive, sure, but let’s not pretend like this is a U.S. Open.

It’s difficult at any time to view Woods properly, but this reality at least gives us a chance of doing so this week. Whether he finishes first or last, it won’t matter. He won the Zozo Championship a month ago and Augusta less than a year ago. Despite a late-season fade on the PGA Tour, the Zozo proved that his body and his game are right again, and nobody has to leverage this event to prove it. 

That’s a good thing because it means we simply get to do what everybody should do when Tiger Woods is swinging a golf club. We get to watch Tiger Woods play golf, and it doesn’t have to mean anything more than that.