Last week’s “The Match” and the Ryder Cup aside, Tiger Woods had a pretty remarkable 2018 season for someone coming off back fusion surgery (his fourth back procedure). It was just 15 months ago that he started pitching and chipping again, and there were questions about whether he’d ever play pain-free and competitively again. Even Tiger wasn’t sure.
Twelve months ago he walked to the first tee of the Hero World Challenge ranked 1,119th in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR). This week, Woods enters the very same event in the Bahamas ranked 13th in the OWGR—a precipitous climb of more than 1,000 spots!
It’s fair to say Woods far exceeded his own expectations and the expectations of the golfing public in 2018, recording 12 top-25 finishes and 7 top-10s in 18 starts, and darn near winning two majors (The Open Championship at Carnoustie and the PGA Championship at Bellerive). He culminated his Comeback-Player-of the-Century-worthy year with career PGA Tour win No. 80 at the season-ending Tour Championship at East Lake in Atlanta.
Woods turns 43 on Dec. 30th next month. In honor of his birthday and the one-year anniversary of the start of his comeback, we asked our Golf Channel Academy lead coaches whether or not they were surprised by Tiger’s comeback and whether he still has a chance at surpassing Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles. Here are the best of their responses.
1) On a scale of 1-10, how surprised were you by Tiger’s 2018 season?
More than half of the coaches admitted to being surprised by Tiger’s performance in 2018, mainly because there was no reason to expect his back and health to hold up for an entire season.
“A 10 for me. As a person who’s had multiple back surgeries myself, I was skeptical that he’d be able to play at such a high level again, especially without pain.” – Bruce Wilkins, Ballantyne Golf Academy, Charlotte, NC
“As far as how he played, a 1. I was not surprised. However, relative to his health and how often he competed it was a 10! He’s always at his best when he’s healthy and gets his reps.” – Jeremy Anderson, Legacy Golf Resort, Phoenix, AZ
“I’d say an 8, but as I reflected on his performance, I was reminded that the mind is a very powerful thing and that champions have that unbelievable ability to summon up old memories of success and overcome the odds to again perform at their peak.” – Mark Polich, Mark Polich Golf, Tucson, AZ
2) Do you think Tiger will win another major (he’s currently stuck on 14) and, if so, how many more?
Many of the coaches noted the very Tiger-friendly major venues in 2019 (he’s won majors on three of the four courses—Augusta National, Bethpage Black and Pebble Beach), and believe that if he can snatch one or two in 2019 that Nicklaus’ record will be well within reach. More than half of the coaches believe he’ll win two or three more majors and make Nicklaus sweat or he’ll surpass the Golden Bear entirely.
“I hope Tiger wins four more and ties Mr. Nicklaus and that’s the way it stays. Can you imagine the incredible G.O.A.T. debates there will be if there’s a tie!” – Rob Strano, Golf Channel Academy with Rob Strano, Destin, FL
“One. So many things have to go right to win a major championship. I think he has it in him to do it again but the talent is too deep for him to dominate like he did in the past.” – Jason Sedan, Fore Door Golf, New Durham, NH
“Two more. When Tiger first came out on Tour no one could hit the shots he could. Now they all can. He created the Tiger Effect.” – Mike Malizia, Mike Malizia Golf, Palm City, FL
“There is no quit in an elite athlete. We sometimes forget that Tiger won the U.S. Open by 15 shots! I can remember when he was hitting 3-irons out of fairway bunkers over trees to win tournaments and thinking to myself, ‘I have no idea how he did that.’ I think Tiger has time now to rest, recharge and prepare himself for a run. We’re lucky to be witnesses.”—Paul Kaster, Paul Kaster Golf Coaching, Little Silver, NJ
3) How many PGA Tour events do you think Tiger will win in 2019?
All but two coaches predicted that Tiger will win multiple times on Tour in 2019, with nearly half projecting three or more titles. That’s significant since three victories would allow Woods to surpass Sam Snead (82 wins) for the most career wins in PGA Tour history.
“I think he will have a great year and complete a comeback story for the ages.” – Kyle Morris, The Golf Room, Dublin, OH
“This will depend on how many events he plays, but I think he wins two majors [the U.S. Open and Open Championship] and I assume he’ll win a playoff or two. So, four wins, a FedEx Cup title and POY, and world adulation is his.” – David Ogrin, Golf Channel Academy at San Pedro, San Antonio, TX
“Three or more. I think his confidence is back and he now knows he can play at a high level again.”—Scott Wickham, Avila Golf & Country Club, Tampa, FL