Bryon Bell looks a lot like someone who wants to sell you the new Droid. That pasty white skin gives the impression he rarely leaves the house, and with that skinny man’s gut, I’m a little worried he’ll make it around Firestone five times this week. At least Tiger didn’t go with the ultimate insult and pull out the stand bag. Bell is one of Tiger’s oldest friends, and the president of Tiger Woods Design. I guess with multiple Woods design projects getting their plug pulled across the world, Bell has time to caddy for Tiger for a week or two. It doesn’t matter their history, there’s no way Tiger is going to play the rest of his career with an unproven looper.
So, why even bother with Bell on a temporary basis? After all, Stevie’s been gone for about a month now, plenty of time to fill the slot. Well, if I’m guessing, Tiger is probably showcasing himself to the elite tour caddies. Tiger hasn’t won in years, he’s not even proven himself healthy at this point. The caliber of caddy that would be willing to leave their man probably isn’t what Tiger thinks it should be. However, he goes out and has a nice finish this week, proves he’s healthy, or god forbid he wins the thing…then Tiger’s bag immediately becomes one of the most lucrative on tour again. Caddies are loyal guys, but sometimes that loyalty is to the dollar. I guess it could all backfire if Tiger strings together a few more t-56s, but I’m sure he’s planning on winning this week and having the caddies for the World’s top-5 immediately drop their bags and come running.
I think this is the most important of all of Tiger’s comebacks to this point. When he came back from that initial U.S. Open knee injury, his world was still in order and he went right back to winning. When he came back after the scandal at the Masters in 2010, the questions were about rust and Tiger’s mental state. No one thought that his game had really deteriorated. He was still with Hank Haney, he’d just need a little time. Of course, since then he’s changed instructors, extended his drought to career long levels, and injured himself at this year’s Masters. A comeback at the Players proved that not only was Tiger still hurt, but his game was in ugly shape. A front nine 42, and a quick WD.
The last few months have added the question, will Tiger ever be healthy again to the questions about his game. Where did that putting stroke go? What’s up with the severe mishits? And, now how’s his Achilles? Tiger has spent the first part of this week dismissing concerns about his health. He worked with his coach Sean Foley, he went to Atlanta to get in some practice for the PGA, he reported a pain-free 9-hole practice round, and even went as far as saying it was the best he’s felt in years. One thing you have to like about Tiger is that he’s not an excuse maker. He’s wiped that slate clean this week.
That’s why I think this is perhaps Tiger’s biggest week since maybe that 2010 Masters. He’s out of the top-20 in the world, he hasn’t had a positive result since April, and if there is going to be any saving of the Woods mystique, he needs to get on it quick. If Tiger comes back fully healthy and still can’t score, he’s going to be in serious trouble. Without a good run, Tiger is going to miss the FedEx playoffs, which would drastically alter his late summer/fall schedule. I don’t see him lowering himself to compete in the “Fall Finish.” Or, whatever those events are called. Tiger’s got two weeks to turn this thing around or he’s going to be seriously hurting for competitive reps until the winter or early next season.
I have no idea what to expect from Tiger this week. It’s a limited field, WGC event with no cut. He’s playing a course, Firestone, that’s he’s absolutely owned. Of all his pet venues, this may be the one where he truly has the biggest edge, or had the biggest edge. He’s even got a great pairing with his buddy Darren Clarke. I wonder if there was any temptation to throw Tiger with Adam Scott and get a little Stevie reunion out of the way? There’s always the weekend. And, Tiger will be playing the weekend, we just don’t know if he’s going to be a factor. His confidence is still there, at least on a superficial level, but eventually he’s going to have to back it up with some strong play. Now or never, Tiger.