Tiger Woods makes his return to competitive golf in 299 days this week when he tees off in the Hero World Challenge on Thursday.
And the golf world just can't contain its excitement. We're all in for a huge disappointment if we're expecting to see the Tiger Woods of the early 2000s, but just having him back is an incredible boost for the game.
If you feel like you've already seen this movie before, we understand. It was at the Hero World Challenge one year ago where Woods made his last, short-lived comeback.
We're all hopeful that unlike most sequels, this one is better than the original.
Woods seems as optimistic and happy as he's been in, well, we can't remember how long.
And his swing? Experts are fawning over it and how it's looking as effortless as ever.
While we don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves, that's virtually impossible when it comes to Woods.
"It's funny," said PGA Professional Rob Labritz, Director of Golf at Glen Arbor in Bedford Hills, N.Y., told us, "When he announced the comeback, the buzz started all over again. He's the biggest needle mover in the game. When he's playing -- or just announcing his intention to play -- the buzz of golf starts up again from golfers to non golfers. It always has a pleasant effect, even at club pro level. Lessons get ramped up. During tournament time, there's a lot of banter and talk across the club, on social media, everywhere."
Even without Tiger, there's so much to be excited about in golf today. The game is loaded with star players 30 and under (save for world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, 33). Any of them could win any given week.
But none of them have that Tiger quality.
Regardless of the outcome, Tiger's presence alone is massive for the game.
"Without a doubt it's a big difference when Tiger is in the conversation," Labritz said. "Hence the 'needle mover' referecne. There's nothing more I'd like to see than to have him come back and compete regularly. The excitement -- golf will explode the interest. He's got that 'it' factor that no one else does."
Labritz said -- without question -- his lesson book fills up when Tiger is a factor. It's especially cool, he said, considering the time of year.
"This is typically the time of year everyone is kind of starting to shut it down in the northeast, right?" Labritz said. "But with Tiger coming back, the excitement and anticipation goes through the roof. It's similar to April when the Masters rolls around and it's the unofficial start of the season up here in terms of the excitement level. It gets busier up here because of the buzz. The buzz keeps going."
With this latest return comes another evolution in Tiger's swing. So far, Labritz likes what he sees.
"It looks pretty simple," he said. "And he's swinging it solid. There's not a lot of wasted movement. He's not dropping his head like he used to on the way down. He's ust swinging his arms and his body is reacting. When you swing properly, you don't have to go at it hard to hit it far. Ernie Els and Adam Scott are perfect examples of that. It'll be interesting to see how it plays out. It looks more and more like his childhood swing. It looks like it did when he was working with Butch Harmon. It doesn't look like he's coiling super hard with the big full follow through. He's letting the club do the work and he's in incredible shape so that helps a lot too. It looks good. I like it. I hope it and his body hold up."
Optimism and hope. That's what those who love the game have in this latest return.
What then, we wonder, would make for a successful return? Is is just getting through a season? Is it winning once? Is it contending in majors?
For Labritz, it's much simpler than that.
"I'd probably say just competing for four rounds just a couple of weeks in a row," Labritz said. "That'd be a great start. Keep competing without injury. That would mean he can practice. Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas are out working their tails off. DJ too. They're bodies are healthy. I'm a perfect example of this. I had a pulled bicep this year. I couldn't practice. I could compete, but couldn't practice. That meant that when I was competing, it was ugly. I was behind everyone else. For Tiger, with his talent level, if he remains uninjured things will fall into place and it'll be a successful comeback."
And, if he gets into contention, how can Woods force himself to do what he's never been able to do before: refrain from putting the pedal to the metal?
"When you get under pressure -- he hasn't been in a while -- you don't knew how the new swing will hold up," Labritz said. "He hasn't had any reps with the new swing under those conditions. If he puts himself in positon more and more, he'll figure it out. We try to eliminate one side of the course when we're playing well. If he understands his move enough to do that, it'll be all good."
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