If the question has been posed once, it's been posed a million times: "What are expectations for Tiger Woods at [insert tournament here]?" It's the lowest-hanging fruit when it comes to golf queries though a legitimate one considering Woods' prominence within the sport not only currently but historically.
The 44 year old has not played professionally since February, coming in last place at the Genesis Invitational. He has popped up in a charity match alongside Phil Mickelson, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He has also won at this event a record five times in his illustrious career that includes 82 total victories. He's also a part of the closest thing to a major-championship field since the PGA Tour's restart.
Ranked No. 14 in the world, Tiger will have a dozen players in the field ahead of him, including Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Brooks Koepka, Webb Simpson, Jon Rahm, two guys named Patrick (Reed and Cantlay) and new star (and last week's champion at Muirfield Village) Collin Morikawa. Still, there's no reason to expect anything other than a top-10 performance from the Big Cat later this week.
Why? Well here are the three biggest reasons.
1. His swing looks pure
Should we try and extrapolate how a professional golfer will play in a competitive environment based on 18 holes of exhibition play at his home course? Of course not ... but I'm going to do so anyway. When Tiger teamed up with Peyton Manning at The Match: Champions for Charity back in May, his swing looked less stuck and more languid than it has looked in many, many Mays. That's not everything, but for Woods, it's generally a sign that the body is feeling pretty good. Every time the body has felt good over a long period of time, Woods has always been competitive at the highest level.
2. His body is rested
I'm currently of the opinion that Woods should only play 4-6 times a year. Rest and something close to a 100% body for him is far more important than tournament reps. I'm probably overstating that -- and he would probably disagree with it -- but his institutional knowledge is so vast and he's so smart on the golf course that he can make up with his mind whatever strokes he's losing to rust. Plus, the body being ready to rock is so invaluable at this point that it can't possibly be outweighed by having more reps. When he won the Zozo Championship last fall, Woods hadn't played a tournament in 10 weeks. That's sort of the point.
3. He owns Muirfield Village
Woods owns every course, but Muirfield has been especially susceptible. He has nine top 10s, including five wins in his 17 appearances there. That includes a T9 last year in which he dropped a dirty little 67 in the final round. The key for him this week will likely be pounding fairways with driver. The rough will be up and the course will try to play a little faster and firmer than it did last week for the Workday Charity Open. If Woods can find short turf off the tee, he'll destroy the place with his iron play like he's always done (and like Morikawa did last week).
Nobody knows how Tiger is going to perform over the course of the event this week. Not even Tiger. But at this point in his career, I think it's wise to value rest (which he's had a lot of over the last five months!) over reps. Because of that, because the swing has been flowing and because of what he's done over the course of his career at this event, it's not unreasonable to think about Woods contending to win what would be a record-setting 83rd tournament of his career.