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Rusty Tiger, Burning Bright: Woods is Back, and Golf TV is Thrilled
June 27, 2014  | By Gerald Jordan
 

A rusty Tiger Woods is better than no Tiger Woods at all.

For 109 days, golf fans have awaited word from on high. Will he return this year? Will he ever return? And those are just the network bosses, fretting over drops in ratings in the absence of the man who in that time off has been replaced as No. 1 and now is the No. 5 world ranked professional golfer. Woods, who left competition in March when he announced that he would have back surgery to correct a pinched nerve, is the guy who his fellow tour pros say “moves the needle.”

This golf season, the needle hasn’t moved much.

Steve DiMeglio of USA Today reported that a Tigerless Masters’ tournament this year attracted 28 percent fewer final-round viewers than last year. The Players Championship, without Woods defending his 2013 title, lost 54 percent of viewers from the final round last year. The U.S. Open final round was 46 percent down from a year ago.

Golf fans watched those events. Bubba Watson (at left) was steely in winning the Masters. Golf fans cheered for 20-year-old Jordan Spieth or wily veteran Jim Furyk to win The Players Championship, but ice cold Martin Kaymer won that one, and snagged the U.S. Open a few weeks later.

Casual fans, who don’t know a wedge from a long-iron from a fairway metal, would have tuned in to see a red-shirted Tiger Woods on all the Sundays of those tournaments. He wasn’t in the field, though, and the casuals weren’t watching.

The Golf Channel presentation of the tournament from Congressional Country Club spared no hype, except for sounding the heralding trumpets. The gauzy highlights from Tiger triumphs past and the dramatic background music left no question: Tiger Woods is back.

At least for another round.

Remember the rust? Woods shot three over par Thursday (yesterday) at Congressional in the first round of the tournament that supports his charitable foundation.

What started with a post on social media -- Tiger Woods was taking “full swings” -- quickly erupted into bold-lettered promos announcing that Woods would be in the field this week. His rehab had been so secretive that only the NSA likely knew for sure just where he was on his plans to return. The PGA cognoscente pegged a possible Tiger return around the British Open next month.

He’s back perhaps a couple of weeks early, to the worry of some experts, but to the delight of casual fans. Sir Nick Faldo probably had the best advice when he told the Golf Channel audience Thursday that Woods, who is six months shy of his 39th birthday, would do best to play at about 80 percent of full strength.

His three-over Thursday round showed the rust, but his birdie string on the finishing holes showed that he’s still Tiger Woods.

Depending upon where the line is drawn to winnow the field of 120 golfers after the second round today (Friday), seen beginning at 12:30 ET on the Golf Channel, Woods might be around for the weekend.

If so, break out your copies of Golf For Beginners and knock the rust off your PGA viewing habits.

Tiger Woods is back, and golfdom is elated. 

 
 
 
 
 
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