Tiger Woods is in contention at the Honda Classic at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida- home to the iconic Jack Nicklaus designed “Bear Trap” stretch. Making just his third start of the season, Woods looks comfortable on a windy course where many players in the field are complaining about the conditions. He heads into the weekend making just his second cut since 2015 after posting scores of 70-71. He currently sits at T14 looking up to co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark at -3.
The leaderboard looks more like a US Open in June than a February FedEx Cup tournament. Just 10 players are under par, with notables Patrick Reed (+6), defending champ Rickie Fowler (+7) and Kevin Kisner (+9) all missing the cut. Tiger finds himself in the middle of the pack, with some hefty competition still in the field. President’s Cup teammates Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger are both two back of the lead; England’s rising star Tommy Fleetwood, who currently sits at 12th best in the world according the Official World Golf Ranking, is T-3 at -2. Sitting below Tiger are Spaniards Rafa Cabrera Bello and Sergio Garcia, both tied for 24th at +2, as well as Rory McIlroy at +4.
This weekend is going to answer some questions for passionate golf fans. For one- could this be the week Tiger is finally back? While this is his 3rd tournament of the year, its only his 4th since the start of 2016. Will stamina, especially on a course with some brutal conditions, come into play as he heads into the weekend? Perhaps, but Tiger’s conditioning suggests otherwise. Since serving as a vice-captain at the President’s Cup in October for Team USA, Tiger has been grinding and practicing hard over the past few months. A new, fuller swing that resembles his late 90s Butch Harmon swing versus his sharper, Sean Foley shaped swing from 2010-2014 might also help prevent the back aches that have affected his performance as of late. Ultimately, the fact that Tiger Woods is contending in a PGA event is already good news for the game of golf as crowd numbers continue to grow across venues. “I’m right where I can win a golf tournament,” Tiger said after his Friday round, “You know, four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.”
Woods is doing well for a few key reasons. Primarily, this tournament promotes having a precision based game of the tee. For the last few years driving accuracy has been a steady issue for Tiger, but at this tournament he’s been routinely teeing it up with 2 irons and 3 woods. The fast, dry fairways coupled with headwinds on some holes have allowed him to dip into his bag and focus on setting up good approach shots, rather than worrying about driving it 330 down the middle.
Because of his driving accuracy, Woods has been able to hit from nice lies in the fairway and given himself makeable birdie putts. Even guys working through some rust can manage hitting fairways though, so it’ll be his wedges and short game that will determine if he can make a jump and threaten the leaders on Sunday. When the old Tiger was winning seemingly a major or two per year, it was because his short game was on fire- spinning close wedges and draining 10 footers with his signature fist bump following every make. As he heads into the weekend, the most important stat along with his short game will be scrambling. So far, he’s been giving himself a lot of good looks and playing a pretty conservative game. But if he’s going to surpass the guys ahead of him, he will need to take risks. If those don’t go his way, he will have to get up and down and lag putt to save par.
So, what to watch for this weekend? How aggressive Tiger will be. Simple. Big galleries will be making their way to Palm Beach Gardens to see if golf’s modern legend has finally regained his touch. “I’m just being very steady,” he said. “I’m trying to make a lot of pars, maybe sprinkle in a birdie here or there. It’s going to come down to a pretty bunched leaderboard Sunday. We all know that. It’s going to be jam-packed. Anybody can win this tournament.’