Halftime Sports

Eye on Tiger

March 29, 2018

April is the month of the Masters. Last year, it was the month Tiger Woods underwent an anterior lumbar interbody fusion, which involved removing part of his lower back discs and replacing them with fusion material. It was his fourth back surgery since March 2014 and looked like the final nail in the coffin.

March 8, 2018 was the day Woods came back from the dead. Last weekend, more than just the golf world was watching the Valspar Championship. Why? Because the name that is associated with the number one position, Tiger Woods, was inching back to that familiar spot. After Day one, to everyone’s surprise, Woods was in the top 10. Throughout day two, he slowly chipped away at the leaderboard and climbed his way into the top five , refusing to go away. And by day three, the surprise was gone and the hunger was there.

The energy surrounding Woods was evident as the crowd behind him looked like they had been picked from the Happy Gilmore set. And on the 17th hole during the final round, Woods did not disappoint, as he sunk a 43-foot putt to keep his hopes of winning the tournament alive. Although Tiger was unable to birdie on 18 to send the tournament to extra holes, he had shown the world that this comeback was unlike the ones before.

The world was ready for more Tiger, with fans streaming 5.5 million minutes on Golf Channel and NBC Sports digital networks during the third round alone. This was a 600 percent increase from last year. The tournament amassed 27.2 million minutes streamed over the course of four days, which made it the largest-streamed PGA Tour event for the network. The Valspar Championship final round received a 5.1 TV overnight rating, which is a 190 percent increase from last year. It was the highest final round overnight rating the tournament has received, and the highest final round overnight rating for a non-major since the 2013 Players Championship, which Woods won.

At the Valspar Championship, Woods elected to hit irons off-the-tee on many, holes which limited his range, but increased his accuracy. This may have been due to his recent struggles teeing off. Woods ranks 104th in strokes gained off-the-tee and 199th in driving accuracy.

Not only did it help him over the weekend, but it will also be critical in his continued recovery as it lessens the impact on his lower back. However, looking to the Masters, the importance of the driver can not be understated, as Augusta National, where the Masters are played, is a lengthy course, and typically, the winner is near the top in strokes gained off-the-tee.  

The driver ultimately ended Tiger Woods’ chances last weekend at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. It had been a tournament Woods has dominated in the past, winning four of his last six outings. He came out strong, going 4-under par to start the tournament and hanging around the top 10 all weekend. The pressure mounted on the final day when Woods had a chance to tie the lead on the 15th hole but ultimately came up short with his putt. With three more holes to go, fans were still clamoring at the idea that Woods could come back and win the tournament. Unfortunately, his drive on 16 sent his ball, and those hopes, awry.

Frustration loomed for the remaining holes and Woods was unable to maintain his composure, kicking at the ground (this is golf not football). While it may seem as if he cracked under pressure, it is good to see his fire back. During his previous comebacks from back surgeries, it was an accomplishment if he could complete a round. Now, the expectations are beginning to return, and not just our expectations, but also the expectations that Woods places on himself–a clear sign of self-confidence.

Tiger Woods’ comeback all comes down to next month when he returns to prestigious Augusta National to hopefully capture his first green jacket since 2005. Woods has not won a major since 2008 and golf has suffered because of it. Last year’s Masters received a 7.6 overnight rating, which was its lowest since 2004. With Woods already given the best odds to win from Vegas, there should be a drastic turn around in ratings.

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