By Joel Beall
Tiger Woods’ comeback campaign wasn’t so much one for the record books as it was a screenplay. Its crescendo coinciding at the Tour Championship was a Hollywood ending, yes, but it was the season’s peaks and valleys—and the tenors and emotions associated—that set the stage at East Lake, allowing the scene at the 72nd hole to pack such a powerful punch.
And we do mean “emotions.” Only Arnold Palmer rivaled Woods in invoking such energetic, palpable affection from galleries. That type of investment can deliver some of the most rewarding moments of fandom. Yet, as any Woods’ backer can attest, there were plenty of incidents, and growing evidence, that rewards may never return.
Which is why its impossible to separate the player from that popularity, and all the fervor and feelings that come with “Tigermania” when bearing witness to Woods. Because this season proved, underlined in Atlanta, the two are one in the same.
Of course, a story only makes sense in completion, and it’s not until the journey is finished that we have context for the stops along the way. Especially, in this case, when just the fanatical could envision where it was heading. For those that want to relive that wild ride, here are the spectacular highs and lows of (arguably) the most emotional golf season ever.
Jan. 4: Announces he’ll start season at Torrey Pines
This wasn’t necessarily a surprise; Woods had played—and more importantly, looked—relatively well a month prior at his Hero World Challenge, and the Farmers Insurance Open served as his opening tournament in 2017. Still, given Woods had appeared in precisely one official PGA Tour event in the previous 29 months, the routine announcement was like the first warm day of winter, offering hope that the long, vapid coldness was coming to an end.
Tigermania-meter: Prepare the twirls.
Jan. 25-26: Makes Torrey cut on number
He was all over the joint, finding just 11 fairways in 36 holes, but a fine scrambling effort got Woods into the weekend. It wasn’t pretty—thanks to some precarious positions, he hit only 58 percent of greens—although after missing the weekend at Torrey by miles in 2017, Woods and his fans would gladly take it.
Tigermania-meter: A reserved fist pump.
Jan. 27-28: Finishes strong in first start
His tee-ball got worse on the weekend, finishing last in the field in accuracy. Yet Tiger held steady in tough conditions, briefly flirting with the top 10 on Sunday before a handful of bogeys dropped him to a T-23 finish. Tiger used to walk out of the parking lot and onto the leader board at Torrey, so perhaps that finish doesn’t dazzle. In that same breath, Woods conceded just months before he might not play competitively again.
Tigermania-meter: Glutes … ACTIVATED.
Feb. 15-16: Struggles in L.A.
Forget skill; Tiger’s iron prowess is a superpower. But apparently Riviera is his kryptonite, as Woods missed more than half his greens on the way to a 72-76 early exit. Of note, Woods plays with Rory McIlroy and Justin Thomas, both of whom comment on the difficulty of playing in front of massive galleries. To which Tiger incredulously thought, “Welcome to my Tuesdays.” Probably.
Tigermania-meter: Check that; glutes are locking up.
Feb. 22-25: Solid down south
Riviera was supposed to mitigate expectations. That notion lasted all of a week. Woods strung together four impressive rounds at PGA National for a T-12 at the Honda Classic. He lead the field in proximity to the hole, a stat recited ad nauseam for the next two weeks by fans and media. Because when you’ve been drowning in a storm of Tiger sadness for five years, any port will suffice.
Tigermania-meter: Seriously, first in proximity! He’s back!
March 8-11: Comes THIS close to winning at Innisbrook
An eight-under total through three days had Woods one off the lead at the Valspar Championship, and a birdie at the first on Sunday seemed to set-up to the sensational. What followed was decidedly not. Woods posted 14 pars and a bogey over the next 15 holes, unable to get his approaches remotely close to the pin. However, he drained a 44-foot “Did you see THAT?!?” birdie on the 17th to get within one of Paul Casey, and his drive on the 18th found the fairway. Unfortunately for Woods and his sycophants, the tying attempt came up well short, his second shot barely in shouting distance of the cup and the birdie putt never scaring the hole. Nevertheless, it was the first silver medal in five years for Tiger, asserting an air of formidability to his return.
Tigermania-meter: Calling financial advisor about second mortgage for Masters badges.
March 15-18: On the prowl at Bay Hill
Coming off the runner-up, Woods entered the Arnold Palmer Invitational—an event he’d won a record eight times—as the favorite, a sentence that remains as absurd today as it was in March. While his 54-hole score of seven under was respectable, it was also five back of leader Henrik Stenson. So when Woods began his day with six birdies on the first 13 holes to cut the deficit to one, it felt like the “(Person X) is about to break the Internet” phrase had merit. No joke: despite going against the first weekend of March Madness, the API outdrew three majors from 2017 in TV ratings. Tiger-Mania is very real, and it’s spectacular.
Tigermania-meter: Looks like I picked the wrong week to quit drinking.
March 18: Falls apart on Bay Hill’s 16th
Following two pars on the 14th and 15th, Woods sailed his drive on the par-5 16th—statistically the easiest hole on the course—out of bounds, forcing one to wonder if there is any semblance of justice in this cruel universe. He took 6 on the hole, and an ensuing bogey on the par-3 17th proved to be the dagger. The T-5 looked good on paper, and in the context of the comeback narrative it was, yet finishing eight shots back of winner Rory McIlroy substantially cooled the jets. In hindsight, considering the tizzy the sport had worked itself into over the previous eight days, the ice bath was for the best.
Tigermania-meter: “It’s all part of the process.” —Tiger Woods. (Note: Woods has said a variation of this throughout the past decade but this go-to Tiger-ism seems most apropos here.)
March 22: Unauthorized book comes out
The biography from Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian was ambitious in scope and filled with new material. But it proves not to be a major distraction to Woods, and his public standing and perception remain largely unchanged by the book’s revelations.
Tigermania-meter: (In best Bill Belichick impersonation) “On to Augusta.”
April 2-3: The return to Augusta
His return to the sacred ground was greeted with a standing ovation at the range. It felt like every patron on property followed his practice round with Phil Mickelson; ditto a Wednesday tune-up with Fred Couples and folk hero Matt Parziale. The Masters is an indisputable holiday on the golf calendar, but—affixed with the hype of Tiger’s comeback and the significance of a theoretical fifth green jacket—there was an extraordinary, unconventional buzz at Augusta National, similar to that before a prizefight.
Tigermania-meter: UNLEASH THE FURY OF A THOUSAND FIST PUMPS.
April 5-8: Reaches Masters weekend but fails to contend
The bark didn’t live up to the bite. Woods bogeyed his fourth hole and never got back into the red for the week. Any dreams of a magical Masters run were kiboshed with consecutive bogeys out of the gate on Saturday. His ultimate T-32 finish wasn’t out of left field; it was his first Masters in three years, after all. Against the backdrop of Innisbrook and Bay Hill, however, golf fans felt like Charlie Brown, duped by Lucy and that damn football.
Tigermania-meter: That anticlimactic feeling of Jan. 2.
May 3-6: Short-game woes continue in Charlotte
His first start since Augusta. Alas, his putter stayed in hibernation, posting a ghastly negative-5.823 strokes gained/putting figure for the week. That number doesn’t come close to conveying how brutal the short-game work was, but let’s not waste words on matters we’d never like to speak of again.
Tigermania-meter: Google searches for “mallet + why not?” were off the charts.
May 10-11: Makes Players cut on number
Whatever drama generated by a Thursday-Friday pairing with Mickelson was quickly extinguished by shoulder-shrug rounds of 72 and 71. Scores good enough to play on Saturday, scores that also translated to a 14-shot deficit to leader Webb Simpson, who had turned into a human fireball at Sawgrass. Don’t care how zealous one’s fandom is; hard to get fired up when facing a 14-stroke climb.
Tigermania-meter: Maybe Webb will fall into a pond.
May 12-13: Surmounts weekend charge at Sawgrass
A good thing the Players was in May and not July, because Tiger’s third-round—eight birdies in the first 12 holes—would have burned Sawgrass to the ground. Sunday’s start brought similar fireworks (six birdies). That Woods stumbled on the closing stretch both days was a slight buzzkill, and a harbinger of challenges to come. Conversely, name another player capable of making a 14-shot deficit must-see theater and delivering on that promise.
Tigermania-meter: Winning three out of four majors ain’t bad.
May 20: Smokes one past Long Drive champ
So what if said champ was a woman? Any contest where Woods shouts “Mic drop” warrants Nobel Prize consideration.
Tigermania-meter: Three Shooter McGavin finger-pistols.
May 31-June 3: Mixed tune-up at Muirfield Village
The good: Woods lead the field in approach and tee-to-green performance. The bad: Woods finished T-23, almost unfathomable with those figures, because … The ugly: his putting again was the bane of his existence, losing a whopping seven shots on the greens to his competitors. On a course where Woods had won five times.
Tigermania-meter: Come on, try the damn mallet.
June 14-17: A harsh and resounding ejection from Shinnecock
Woods was not expected to contend at the U.S. Open, his wildness off the tee and short-game issues far from conducive to the venue. That he failed to put up a fight, making triple on the first hole and opening with an eight-over 78, was a different animal. It was the first time in 2018 he appeared vexed and defeated, that he wasn’t up to the test of today’s major standards. Morale was so bad that the USGA sabotaged the third round to distract us from Woods’ crash-n-burn. At least we think that’s what happened.
Tigermania-meter: Privacy is sinking in the Long Island Sound.
June 28-July 1: Some hope in D.C.
The 10-shot gap between Quicken Loans National winner Francesco Molinari and Woods was not inspiring. Against the rest of his competitors, a bit more assurance, a T-4 his best finish in four months. The putter finally behaved, gaining five strokes against his field, and he led the tournament in birdies. Faith was restored just in time for the Open.
Tigermania-meter: Cautiously optimistic.
July 6: Reports of Tiger-Phil match
Golf.com breaks the news that a made-for-TV exhibition between the two legends is in the works.
Tigermania-meter: All right, they’re reviving “Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf!” What could possibly go wrong?
July 19-21: Lurking at Carnoustie
Nothing to write home about through the first two days, but a third-round 66 moved Tiger from T-26 to T-6, four shots back of the leaders. A position, in itself, that was stimulating. Packaged with Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth and Tommy Fleetwood as players fighting for the claret jug, on a links that looked like the surface of Mars, had the pistons firing.
Tigermania-meter: En route to the “Kill House.”
July 22: Takes Open lead heading into back nine
As Spieth and McIlroy and Fleetwood faltered, Woods made the turn in 34 to take sole possession of the lead. In a major. In 2018. To top it off, he hits one of the best recovery shots of his career after his ball finds a fairway bunker on the 10th.
Tigermania-meter: OHMYGOD IT’S HAPPENING …
July 22: Doubles the 11th, bogeys 12th
This is why you shouldn’t dream, kids. That way you are never disappointed. These mis-steps—with subpar Sunday stretches at the Valspar, API and Players in mind—raised an uncomfortable, and surreal, question: Why couldn’t Tiger close? A valid question, but also for another day. This day was for appreciating Tiger’s efforts (and the earth-shaking moments it produced) even if he came up short.Tigermania-meter: Escalating slow clap.
July 22: Fan yells in backswing on 18th tee
Congress should have deemed this an act of war.
Tigermania-meter: Where’s Stevie when you need him?
Aug 2-5: Underwhelming showing at Firestone
His Carnoustie run earned an invite to the Akron WGC event. Site of eight Woods’ victories, the only highlights from the weekends were Firestone flashbacks, a wayward driver dooming Tiger to a distant T-31 finish.
Tigermania-meter: That twilight scene though.
Aug. 9-11: On the board at Bellerive
A second-round 66 put Woods well within the PGA Championship cutline, but at T-19 and six shots behind heading to the third round, he looked to be more of an ancillary character. That changed with another 66 on Saturday, vaulting Tiger to T-6. He would start Sunday four shots back of Brooks Koepka, and a crowd of marquee names (Adam Scott, Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm, Jason Day and Justin Thomas) were also in the mix. Yet Woods was officially lurking at another major, and after licking his wounds at Carnoustie, Big Cat seemed ready to roar.
Tigermania-meter: Watching “Rocky” pump-up montages.
Aug. 12: Turns back the clock
Woods was two under through eight, but the party didn’t start until the ninth, when Woods hit an approach from cart-path hardpan to 10 feet. That birdie, and the furious fist pump that followed, transported the gallery back to 2000. Birdies at the 12th and 13th, along with a “Let’s go TI-GER!” chant, had Bellerive ready to burst. And though a bogey at the 14th ostensibly put a roof on the proceedings, Woods popped it back off by nearly jarring his approach at the 15th. But Woods was running out of holes, and a mis-hit drive on the par-5 17th bestowed ample breathing room to Kopeka. Even so, the indelible crowd reaction to Woods’ birdie on the final hole made the following quite clear: Koepka finished first on the leader board, but Woods left St. Louis the victor.
Tigermania-meter: (Fans self) I need a cigarette.
Aug. 22: “The Match” confirmed
Plus: It’s happening! Negative: Wow, this trash talk is contrived.
Tigermania-meter: Never give
agents dads access to Twitter.
Aug. 23-Sept. 3: A so-so return to the playoffs
In the FedEx Cup for the first time in five years, Woods makes the cut at the Northern Trust and Dell Technologies Championship, but doesn’t come close to competing for the trophy. Some chalk it up to running on fumes after Bellerive; in truth its the fickle flat stick, ranking last in the field in putting at Ridgewood and not much better at TPC Boston.
Tigermania-meter: You know, putting should only count as half strokes.
Sept. 4: Picked for Ryder Cup
Woods, along with Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau, get the nod for the first three captain’s picks for the U.S. team heading to Paris. (Woods finished 11th in the final standings after Bellerive, with the top eight earning automatic selection.) It is Woods’ eighth career Ryder Cup appearance, but first since 2012.
Tigermania-meter: Geez, this is the most stacked U.S. team in history.
Sept. 6-10: Close but no cigar at Aronimink
An opening-round 62 ties for the lead as petitions are immediately filed for Aronimink to host the next 20 U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. He goes sideways during the second though to fall five shots back. A stout weekend charge (66, 65) provides its share of excitement, just can’t atone for the second-round sins, finishing three shots out of a playoff. A T-6 is another step forward in the #process, but after the PGA, fans are getting thirsty.
Tigermania-meter: He really could have five wins by now.
Sept. 20-21: 36-hole leader at East Lake
Woods shrugged off an opening bogey to card four birdies and an eagle Thursday, his 65 tied with Fowlerfor best on the day. Friday was a grind, his drives and second shots not hitting their mark, but, gasp!, a rejuvenated short game and a late rally kept Woods atop the board, the first time he held that position after 36 holes in three years.
Tigermania-meter: (Into walkie talkie) We have confirmation: Ranger Rick is on the course.
Sept. 22: Leads by three heading into Sunday
Saturday’s round went right into the Hall of Fame. Six birdies in the first seven holes for a 65 and a three-shot lead. A performance to set up the spectacular.
Tigermania-meter: FULL AMES MODE.
LESept. 23: Wins the Tour Championship
A birdie at the first pushed his lead to four and cranked the crowd volume to 10. The next 13 holes were part golf tournament, part homecoming parade. The issue became slightly in doubt on the 16th and 17th, but a knee-knocker save on the latter sealed the day, transforming the 18th hole into a coronation. The king, back on his throne, marching down the aisle with his people by his side. The greatest comeback since Hogan was complete: Tiger Woods was a winner once again.
Tigermania-meter: I’m not crying. You’re crying.
Sept. 28-30: Ryder Cup blowout
Apparently there was an exhibition of some kind in Paris, and Tiger didn’t play particularly well, going 0-4 in the proceedings. We’re not quite sure; we blacked out after Atlanta.
Tigermania-meter: Seriously, did you see that scene at East Lake?
Nov. 20: Press conference for The Match
Phil plays up to a room filled with extras from “Pawn Stars” while Woods looks like he wants to be anywhere but there. The two try to mimic a boxing stare down but burst out in laughter.
Tigermania-meter: Uh-oh, this might be a disaster.
Nov. 23: Loses to Mickelson in 22 holes
Er, 19 holes and three chip-offs. The games of Woods and Mickelson are rusty, the smack talk is non-existent, Ernie Johnson couldn’t be quiet, the tour limited side-betting and viewers complained about technical difficulties. Other than that, smooth sailing. (We should have known from the start when the promotional poster had Woods hitting a left-handed club.) The lone highlight: a chip-in from Woods on the 17th hole that briefly gave Mickelson PTSD.
Tigermania-meter: Still beat watching Iowa-Nebraska.
Nov. 29-Dec. 2: Out of gas
Throughout the Hero World Challenge, Woods says he doesn’t want to repeat the end of 2018, where he played seven times in nine weeks. He also alluded to a foot issue that had been plaguing him, the first mention of said alignment all year. He finishes 17th out of 18 players. Let’s just say this week won’t make the season-highlight reel.
Tigermania-meter: All good things, like this article, must come to an end.