Nine expectations we have for Tiger Woods as the 2019 golf season heats up
Big Cat is eight rounds into what should be a terrific season
The sample size is still small for 2019, but with Tiger Woods, the sample size is always going to be small. Woods will likely play in significantly fewer events this season than he did in 2018, and at some point, you have to start evaluating what he's done on the course and what it means for what he could do.
Tiger has played in just two tournaments -- the Farmers Insurance Open and Genesis Open -- so far in 2019 and performed well in both. A pair of top-20 finishes in those fields as the first PGA Tour follow up to his 2018 Tour Championship win are good performances. And based on those performances, as well as what I saw from Tiger in 2018, here's nine expectations golf fans should have for him over the rest of 2019.
1. Tiger will still (at times) be magic: We saw this on Saturday evening at Rviera. Five threes to open his third round, and suddenly the entire tournament didn't even matter anymore. The only thing that mattered -- and how many times has this been said over the last two decades? -- is what Woods did on the next hole. This is not the last time this will happen in 2019, and we should go into tournaments expecting at least one astonishing moment (if not more) from Woods.
2. Tiger will have more control off the tee: Woods is currently gaining a half stroke on the field average off the tee. It's hard to overstate how important this is to his success this year. Last year, he was almost exactly the field average -- meaning he neither gained nor lost strokes off the tee -- but if he's gaining on fields with an historically wild driver, he's going to factor into a lot more events than I thought.
3. Tiger as a favorite is not crazy (even at majors): This time last year, Woods being the favorite or near the favorites at any tournament, much less a major championship, felt contrived and a little delusional. Now it just feels like Las Vegas playing off a public that wants to see him win, which is no different than what happened in 2006 or 2001. Should Tiger Woods be the Masters favorite? I don't know about that, but I do think he can win the Masters, which means that he should be a favorite, in which case Vegas will almost always make him the favorite.
4. His body will bend (but not break): One of the primary carryover storylines from last week into this week is how Woods's body -- age 43 -- will hold up after three days of 7 a.m. start times at Riviera. Woods said he was getting up at 2 or 3 a.m. (which ... what?!) to get started with the process. That seems unsustainable at a high level and I think could affect him this week in Mexico. The bottom line here is that I think we're going to see more Phil Mickelson out of Woods this year where he still has the highest highs but his lows are lower than normal (see: back nine at Riviera on Sunday). Consistency has always marked Woods's career, but it's not going to mark this season like it has in the past.
5. Tiger will be even better (?) from tee to green: Wins are wins, and they are largely arbitrary, but one thing you can mostly control is how well you're hitting it from tee to green. Tiger finished eighth last season at 1.33 strokes gained from tee to green per round. This year he hasn't played enough rounds to qualify, but he's been much better (largely because of the driver) at 1.66. It would be kind of incredible to me if he kept that up and finished in the top five (1.66 would have been second behind Dustin Johnson last year). But he's certainly off to a better start this time around than in 2018 when he barely made the cut at Torrey Pines and then missed it at Riviera.
6. It will take his very best to win: Remember when Tiger had an incredible third round 65 at Riviera and was still down 10 strokes to leader Justin Thomas going into the final round? Woods is not jousting with the Woody Austins and Michael Campbells of the world anymore, and unlike the past it will take his very best stuff for four straight days to win a golf tournament.
7. There will be crowds: Let's just say this image of Woods playing the classic 18th at Riviera early on Sunday morning is probably the only one the rest of the season you'll see without galleries six or eight deep. Augusta National is going to be frothy after the start Woods has had this year.
8. The old Tiger schedule will be back (sort of): There were questions coming into this week about whether he would play in all the WGC events this season because of the new schedule. We knew he would play the four majors, The Players, and the Genesis Open. But because of the logjam in February and March with that Riviera-Mexico-Honda-Arnold Palmer-Players stretch, it wasn't a lock that Woods would play this week's WGC. Now it appears he'll skip Honda and go Arnold Palmer-Players to touch off the busy stretch, which is not exactly like his old slate but about as close as we're probably going to get.
9. Tiger should win: I'm not saying he will. In fact, I don't think he will. But I'm saying it's a reasonable and proper expectation that Tiger Woods should win a PGA Tour event in 2019. That's a long way from where we were 12 months ago and an entire universe away from 2-3 years ago. The fact that it no longer feels crazy to expect Woods to win once or even twice on the PGA Tour is a great thing for golf and a reminder that we're in for a wild next six months.
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