Tiger Woods

It has become one of the big events of the summer, right there next to the World Cup, various Grand Slam tennis tournaments, and the ongoing MLB season. It’s the Tiger Woods watch, as both hardcore golf fans and just casual observers wait to see if he’ll finally end a victory drought dating back to 2013. Last week it seemed about to happen as Woods was playing at the Quicken Loans National against what was the weakest field he’ll probably face in any tournament the rest of the season.

However it didn’t really matter because Francesco Molinari, one of the top international golfers in the world and a two-time Ryder Cup player, ran away with the tournament. He had a final round 62 and breezed to victory by an eight-stroke margin.

Still, for Woods watchers, the good news was that he had a final round 66. That included six birdies as opposed to only two bogeys. Sure he finished 10 shots behind the leader, but it was his second-best finish this year, and he had an excellent weekend. “Well, I think the last two days playing (holes) 13, 14 the way I did, I bogeyed 13 twice and then I didn’t birdie 14 either day, and I was right there next to the green,” Woods told ESPN.com. afterwards. “Those are things that I can’t afford to do and expect to win a golf tournament.”

But it is still shaping up to be the best year for Woods since his latest return from back surgery, and the first time he’s put together a consistent string of good tournaments. He was second at the Valspar Championship in March, and overall he’s played in 11 tournaments. The results are three top five and five top 12. finishes. While that might not sound like much for the man who once set a record for most consecutive weeks ranked number one in the world, it’s a huge improvement for someone who at one point last year was ranked 625th.

At the start of the week, Woods moved up from number 82 to number 67. Once again that doesn’t sound like much compared to past glory, but it’s the highest he’s ranked since early 2015. He’s aiming for at least a top 10 finish in his next event, at Carnoustie in Scotland which could allow him to qualify for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in August.

That locale has a very special history to Woods. As an amateur in 1995 Woods got his introduction to links golf as a 19-year-old amateur playing the Scottish Open. He’s since won there eight times, including 2013. He’s also finished tied for seventh (1999) and tied for 12th (2007).

The golf world would like for people to believe it no longer needs Tiger Woods to be a potent commercial force, but the ratings show otherwise. Any tournament in which he contends gets an immediate ratings boost, and whatever network is televising the PGA on a given weekend dearly hopes he’ll be a force in that tournament. His galleries remain among the largest on the tour, and that’s for someone without a win for over five years.

The coverage given the tournaments where Woods is playing goes two ways. There are general articles each day giving event summaries and showing who’s ahead. Then there’s the inevitable sidebar where writers examine Woods’ round and offer their assessments regarding his chances for a win in that field. 

His chances of either breaking Jack Nicklaus’ record for most majors or of ending up with the most wins in PGA history remain long shots now given the impact that repeated injuries have had on him physically, and just the overall toll that aging takes on any athlete.

But one thing hasn’t changed: Tiger Woods remains the most popular figure on the PGA Tour and one of the world’s top attractions no matter whether he’s winning or losing. Like the Williams sisters in tennis, his every word and action is followed, evaluated and examined, and whenever he does win again it will be treated like an epic event.