Certainly, it’s way too early – and far too much can mess up a good story between here and the Sept. 20 start of the Tour Championship at East Lake – to be Tiger watching.
Or is it?
“We’ve been looking at the standings since the beginning of the year, waiting on it,” Allison Fillmore, the new executive directory of the season-ending tournament. The “it” she refers to is a possible return of Tiger Woods to East Lake after a four-year absence.
“Everyone is anticipating it. Everyone is excited about the opportunity,” she said.
At the beginning of the latest Woods comeback – this one following spinal fusion surgery – he was a wee, distant figure on the golfing horizon. His world ranking at the beginning of the year: No. 649. His FedEx Cup standing was likewise dim - No. 166 at the end of January - and only the top 30 make it to East Lake for the Tour Championship. So, yeah, he had a continent worth of ground to make up.
Following his T-6 finish at the British Open, his ranking rehab, which has been a reflection of his physical one, took another big step forward. No. 1 in affecting televised golf ratings, he’s now No. 50 in world and No. 43 in FedEx Cup points.
Creeping just into the top 50 in the world qualified Woods for the World Golf Championships-Bridgestone event in two weeks at Firestone. He’s only won eight times on that course. That, in turn, affords him a chance to grow his FedEx Cup stash in advance of the season’s last major and the cycle of playoff events.
Although Woods has yet to win anything, his haul of majors stalled at 14 for a decade, he at least is playing at a level to contend for some of these elite, limited-field events. And even that is more than anyone could have reasonably expected when he emerged from his latest back troubles.
Ticket sales for the Tour Championship are, according to Fillmore, “doing quite well this year regardless; we’re up quite a bit over previous years.” Throw Woods into the mix and there will be a significant bump, guaranteed. That regardless of the fact this will be the final Tour Championship competing against September football.
You may have forgotten what it’s like to have Woods, a two-time FedEx Cup and Tour Championship winner, at East Lake. After all, you’ve been a little busy since 2013. Well, it’s a big deal. It adds a whole other layer of interest to the proceedings.
And now, it’s possible to look even beyond the Tour Championship to the Ryder Cup that closely follows on its heels. A vice captain on the team – and no, that doesn’t mean Woods is in charge of team vice – he initially was being measured as a ceremonial/inspirational figure on the team. Now, it’s possible he could a full competing member.
Currently 20th in Ryder Cup points, it’s unlikely he’s got time to climb into the top eight for an automatic bid to the team (three weeks remain in that race). But his performance of late has ramped up the pressure on Jim Furyk to use one of his four captain’s picks on Woods. Even if Woods’ Ryder Cup record is a mundane 13-17-3.
The Woods Comeback has real legs, ones that might carry him all the way through to season’s end, and beyond.