“Nice to get it out of the way.”
So said Tiger Woods after his return to golf Thursday at the Hero World Challenge.
That makes two of us.
Nice to get this over and done with, nice to deal with the facts of 18 holes rather than the hype of what might be.
It started early Thursday with a giddy love-fest by those talking heads on The Golf Channel led by good ole boy Charlie Rymer and John Cook and the female Brit, all going totally ga-ga like a bunch of six-year-olds on Christmas morning.
Had to turn it off, the gushing and joy became overbearing.
Just before mid-day The Tiger Tracker went live, later crashed, too many hits.
Tiger didn’t crash. He showed up and showed well after 10 months or around 301 days since he last played meaningful golf.
“Up-and-down,” was how Woods would describe his day at Albany. “And I’m only three shots out of the lead.”
Yes, golf’s greatest active player is active again, looked good, looked darn healthy, hit a bunch of good shots and a few stinkers, pretty much what could be expected.
It only took him three holes to make an impression. At the 572-yard par five third, he hit a beastly drive, leaving himself 260 to the hole.
“I roped that two-iron in and I knew I was playing golf again,” he said afterward, pointing to the shot that got some adrenaline going.
He hit seven of 13 fairways, 12 of 18 greens, five birdies, two bogeys and that added up to 69. Tied his playing partner Justin Thomas, was three back of leader Tommy Fleetwood and beat seven guys in the field.
“Best part of my game? My driver and obviously my putter,” Woods told everyone.
There was one fist pump. It came at the fourth hole when it looked like he’d make bogey. A lousy chip from short of the green didn’t make it to the green, leaving him on the fringe, 15 feet from a par. He holed it and punched the air, an enthusiastic fist pump from the guy who invented ’em.
“I was grinding out there,” Woods emphasized. “I tried to shoot under par. I made a couple of mistakes on the par fives. Chipping was frustrating, it’s so sticky,” he said of the grass around the greens at Albany.
He was right about his play on he par fives. Albany has five of them and five par threes, a bunch of short par fours, plenty of birdie opportunities.
“I have to keep away from mistakes. The rest of these guys have been playing all year and they can go out and make seven birdies so they don’t care if they make a couple of bogeys. If I play the par fives better, I’m probably tied for the lead.”
Indeed, Woods was one-over on the par fives despite the really good length he showed all day with the tee ball, hitting a bunch of them past reigning PGA Tour Player Of The Year Thomas, his playing partner.
Woods said that he thought about how thankful he was before he teed off, thankful to a lot of people who helped him get back to this moment in time.
The big difference between Thursday and last year was that Woods felt strong all day.
“I didn’t get tired, last year I was tired by the end of the round,” he said.
Even his best-known critic was gushing, yes Brandel Chamblee.
“I gave him an ‘A’ — better than I expected,” Chamblee said back in his Orlando studio.
Yes, it was that kind of day, overall, an “A” day for the game of golf.
No more speculation, just sit back and see what this nearly 42-year-old version of Woods can do this week.
But keep in mind, there’s a disclaimer here.
This is a controlled environment, pretty easy golf course, small field.
Who knows what lies down the road.
But it might be a safe bet that somewhere in the world, some book-maker is ready to install Woods as the odds-on favorite to win The Masters.