Tiger­ma­nia is back in new form

Woonsocket Call - - Sports - By DOUG FER­GU­SON As­so­ci­ated Press

NASSAU, Ba­hamas — The lat­est come­back by Tiger Woods, this one fol­low­ing a 10-month ab­sence from a fourth back surgery in three years, was sure to cause some dis­rup­tion in the work­force with the week­day tele­vi­sion cover­age.

That in­cluded the com­mis­sioner's of­fice at the PGATour.

“I would con­sider my­self to be among the highly dis­tracted as Tiger played his first round,” Jay Mon­a­han said Tues­day.

Mon­a­han was at the Hero World Chal­lenge the day be­fore it be­gan and stayed for the pro-am din­ner, where he said Woods spoke from the heart about his foun­da­tion, thanked the other 17 play­ers for com­ing and re­minded them they had a chance to com­pete against a player at No. 1,199 in the world rank­ing.

“That broke up the room,” Mon­a­han said with a laugh.

In­deed, it's rare for a player to tie for ninth and move up 531 spots in the world rank­ing — Woods now is all the way up to No. 668 — but such were the cir­cum­stances. The field fea­tured eight of the top 10 in the world, and it in­cluded one guy who had earned rank­ing points at only two tour­na­ments over the last two years. There's no way to go but up. That's what Mon­a­han took away from the hol­i­day ex­hi­bi­tion, only he wasn't talk­ing about the world rank­ing.

“We had such a strong year with great, young play­ers step­ping for­ward,” he said. “You add Tiger back in the mix, and we all go away from it with a lot of ex­cite­ment.”

How much Woods is in the mix re­mains to be seen, al­though this was as strong as he has looked in four years. Next up is fig­ur­ing out a sched­ule that Woods said would be geared around the four ma­jors. He hasn't played all four since 2015, and he hasn't made the cut in all of them since 2013.

Most of the young play­ers at Al­bany Golf Club — Justin Thomas, Jor­dan Spi­eth, Brooks Koepka, Daniel Berger — know more about the leg­end of Woods than what it's like to have him at tour­na­ments. Thomas got a taste of it. He is the FedEx Cup cham­pion and PGA Tour player of the year after win­ning five times, in­clud­ing his first major at the PGA Cham­pi­onship. He started the new sea­son by win­ning the CJ Cup in South Korea.

And when he sat down for a news con­fer­ence, his first six ques­tions were about Woods.

Thomas was paired with Woods for the first and fi­nal rounds, and while Woods had the largest gallery, there was rarely more than about 250 fans. It's the Ba­hamas. So when Thomas was asked if felt the ef­fect of Woods on the golf course or in his news con­fer­ence, he smiled.

“I would say more of the fact that I just won the FedEx Cup, player of the year, and all I get asked about is Tiger Woods,” he said. Thomas was not the least bit ir­ri­tated, even though this was the 10th out 12 con­sec­u­tive ques­tions he fielded about Woods on that day.

“I thought it was bad the ques­tions I got asked about Jor­dan,” Thomas said.

Golf wasn't suf­fer­ing with­out Woods, not in­side the ropes.

Dat­ing to when Woods had his first back surgery, Rory McIl­roy won two ma­jors in 2014; Spi­eth got halfway to the cal­en­dar Grand Slam in 2015; Dustin John­son ful­filled his po­ten­tial with his first major in 2016 and was voted player of the year. And this year brought the emer­gence of the 24-year-old Thomas.

None can draw at­ten­tion to golf like Woods — not in­di­vid­u­ally, maybe not col­lec­tively. That's no sur­prise.

“The keen golf fans will know Tiger moved the nee­dle and brought peo­ple in that might be sports fans, but not golf fans,” Hen­rik Sten­son said.

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