Tiger Woods plans to make his 2017 debut in familiar territory at Torrey Pines, followed by starts in Dubai, Los Angeles and at PGA National over three of the following four weeks. ESPN's Jason Sobel and Michael Collins debate whether the packed schedule is good or bad for Woods.
Sobel: You know what, Mike? I've got this crazy, scorching-hot take to all of this news: Good for him. I mean, really, is there any other way to react? Tiger is a golfer, and golfers -- as long as they're healthy enough -- play golf. He always talks about "the process," and this latest string of announcements is the next step in that process. It proves he is at least physically prepared to compete on a regular basis.
Don't tell me you're going to find some fault in these announcements, Collins.
Collins: Good for him? Jason, I thought Tiger said he was going to follow his doctor's orders this time.
Don't get me wrong, I'm as excited as anyone to see Tiger coming back and competing again. What bothers me about this is, which doctor in his right mind would give a 41-year-old athlete coming off an almost 18-month hiatus because of back surgeries the green light to play four tournaments in five weeks? And throwing in two 16 ½-hour flights on top of it?!
You're exactly right on Tiger always talking about the process. What Tiger doesn't talk about is when that process fails because it was too aggressive. How many times has Tiger played this same song in the past six years? We, the media, bite it like fish to a lure. Yet Woods has always ended up in the same situation, reinjured and having to dodge questions about the truth of why.
Here are a couple of questions for you. If Tiger was not getting an appearance fee, do you think he'd be playing in Dubai? Which Tiger would you rather have, a short, bright flash or a long, slow burn?
Sobel: First question first: I don't think anyone does anything in Dubai without getting paid, and I don't begrudge Tiger or any other pro for taking a large appearance fee to compete. It's hypocritical to say otherwise. People work for money. If you're a plumber and someone offers you an exorbitant "appearance fee" to travel halfway around the world to unclog a toilet, you're not going to preach about staying true to your values and keeping a strict schedule. You're going to grab your best plunger and get on a plane. My educated guess is the powers-that-be in Dubai witnessed Woods' performance at the Hero World Challenge, understood he's healthy and still a drawing card, and put an eraser to their original offer.
Now, your second question intrigues me a lot more. I don't know what's going through Tiger's mind right now, but I'll make another educated guess: He was beyond encouraged following his play at the Hero, and using that as motivation, he went back home and worked his butt off for a few weeks. And now -- again, just a hunch -- his body feels strong, his game feels better and he's excited to get out there and play again. But yeah, to your point, maybe he's too excited. It does sort of feel like he's going all-in at the beginning of the poker tournament.
It's tough for him, though. We scrutinize him so much, it's a damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't situation. Tiger announces he'll play four events in a five-week stretch and we question whether his body can handle it; if he had announced he was only playing one event during that time frame, we'd likely be questioning whether he'll ever play a full schedule again.
All of which leads to the million-dollar question: How is he going to play? Torrey and Riviera ain't exactly the resort life of Albany, you know.
Collins: How Tiger will play is such a tough question because most Tiger fans want to answer it with their hearts instead of their heads.
We all got jacked up and lost our minds when Tiger made a mini-run at the Hero on that Friday and Saturday. We also "forgot" how easy that course played and how a guy named Hideki overall made Tiger look like Gordie Howe in his last professional start, a cute sideshow.
Torrey is a big, unforgiving course, and Tiger better keep hand warmers in his back pockets this time so his glutes stay activated. I don't expect Tiger to make the cut at Torrey Pines or Riviera, and Honda (PGA National) isn't a resort course either. Remember, not only is Woods trying to get into "playing shape," he's also doing it while trying to find a set of clubs to use.
Which leads me to this: Other than the money grab in Dubai, is Tiger doing all this hard-core stuff early this year for the long term or because he wants to win Augusta this year worse than any other time in his life?
Sobel: I'm going to reiterate my first point: He's doing it because he's a golfer and golfers play golf. Is he more motivated by money or records, or the potential of showing his kids he can win again, or a massive "screw you" to everyone who has said he was done? I assume it's some combination, but the root of it stems from his competitive desire.
Following his personal scandal, I wrote a column about how Tiger looked like he had fallen out of love with the game. It seemed like it had become a chore for him, just a job, something he did because everyone expected him to do it and he didn't know life without it.
Granted, it's been a gradual process -- there's that word again -- but the Tiger we witnessed last month seemed like he really enjoyed being back in the game. He repeatedly spoke about how much he likes being around his fellow competitors -- and many of those relationships developed even more during the Ryder Cup. He was focused on the practice range. He was relaxed. He seems like he's in a good place mentally, at least from what we can view in public. I believe he's rekindled that love for the game and playing competitively. And as long as that passion remains, I'm bullish on him over the long haul.
Do I think he'll set foot on Torrey Pines and instantly turn back into the guy who's won eight times there? No, of course not. But that's an unreal expectation anyway. Let's allow him to get through these four events and use that as a litmus test for his physical health, his technical performance and his desire to win again.
Collins: I completely agree with your assessment of Tiger looking like he loves being at "work" again. That's probably because it was taken away from him in a way that was not on his terms.
It's true, golfers play golf. But if doing it in a way where you can't play catch with your grandchildren in 15 years, then don't play as much golf right now. Call me selfish, but I don't want to see Tiger play 15 events this year and go away for good. I'll take Tiger for 10 events and five years instead.
Sobel: As much as I'm sure he appreciates the advice, Dr. Collins, I'm going to trust that he knows his physical restrictions better than anyone else.
Sixteen months is a long time -- more than he has ever sat out from an injury before. And this is exactly why he did it: So that when he was ready to return, it wasn't in a limited capacity. He knew he'd never gain any sort of momentum if he returned only to play one tournament a month. Instead, he rested, recovered, recuperated and now he's giving it a go to play a full schedule. If it doesn't work out, if he injures himself again, I won't have a problem with it. The guy is trying. This is what we should want out of professional athletes. Effort and desire to compete at the highest level.
Collins: I'm glad you won't have a problem with it, but I sure will. The third time you tell Superman not to fly until the kryptonite is washed out of his cape and he still tries again anyway and crashes into a brick wall, I will not applaud and say, "Good for you for trying!"