NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods experienced informally achieved Tommy Fleetwood on a couple of instances, but it wasn’t until Tuesday of this previous week’s Hero Earth Problem that they really engaged in dialogue. Like just about each professional golfer in his demographic, the 26-12 months-aged Fleetwood grew up looking at Woods dominate tournaments and experienced constantly dreamed of competing towards him.

Now it was taking place. And right here they were being confront-to-confront, obtaining a prospect to turn out to be acquainted.

The interactions amongst numerous of golf’s up-and-coming talents and the 14-time key champion is akin to individuals of Woods and his aged buddies of a preceding generation — gamers these as Mark O’Meara and John Cook dinner — in that he serves partly as a fellow competitor who nevertheless needs to beat ’em each 7 days and partly as a sage mentor who can present a more skilled player’s standpoint.

As if to verify that place, on conference Fleetwood, Woods went into full dad mode.

“When are you likely to get your hair reduce?” he needled the folically-welcoming Fleetwood.

“My dad’s been stating that to me for several years,” stated the Englishman, who’d really gotten a trim the working day in advance of. “Tiger’s a little bit much better at golfing than my dad, though.”

Woods is an elder statesman now, his chiseled frame no mask for a thinning hairline and graying whiskers. He’ll readily confess it, way too, crowing to any individual who will listen that “Father Time is undefeated.”

It is not just his age — he’ll switch 42 on Dec. 30 — that classifies Woods amid gamers with more miles on the tires. A rigorous apply regimen as a youth indicates he is almost certainly swung at more golfing balls than other individuals his age. And four back again surgical procedures in the previous four several years are sufficient to hold even a person of the finest golfers of all time from experience spry.

All of which tends to make what transpired at the Hero, if it is indeed the Return of Tiger, so spectacular.

It can also enable us to aspiration a small aspiration.

Image this: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler and the bevy of up coming-gen talents keep on competing at high ranges — only up coming 12 months, they will be joined by the person they idolized escalating up, a person returning to prominence for the initially time in numerous of their occupations, mirroring his functionality previous 7 days with laser-beam drives and an immaculate putting stroke.

Call it the finest of each worlds. Call it the ideal state of affairs. Call it the potential doorway to an unprecedented Golden Age in the video game.

“There is certainly almost certainly really no text to describe it,” Thomas stated. “Golf’s now in, I am biased, but I would say it really is perhaps in the finest spot it really is been. … It is hard to do the factors that he did in terms of profitable that numerous tournaments in a 12 months with how deep the Tour is and just how numerous good, hungry young gamers there are. But it would be fun.”

Spieth concurred, giving, “It would be amazing. I truly feel like the game’s been in a really awesome spot, with younger fellas becoming equipped to gain. But the Tiger ingredient unquestionably accentuates everything that is good in the video game appropriate now.”

Even just a 12 months ago, there was a perception from Woods that he wanted to return not as some current variation of himself, but as the exact ruthless, relentless competitor who received 79 PGA Tour titles with no cracking a smile until victory was clinched.

It feels different now. There was a improve this 7 days in Tiger’s tone, a person that showed he is more snug with the elder statesman position than he was in advance of. He is not only conscious of what he indicates to the video game, but he also may have an understanding of much better than at any time, following 10 months absent, what the video game indicates to him.

“I was extremely thankful this morning,” he admitted following Thursday’s opening round, his initially in 301 times. “I was, in my head, thanking all the persons who have served me in supplying me a prospect to occur back again and participate in this round once again. There were being a ton of persons that were being instrumental in my life — friends, exterior persons I have in no way achieved in advance of, certainly my surgeon. So there have been a ton of persons. I was extremely thankful. I manufactured confident in my head to try and thank each a person of them.”

He may not be Michael Jordan with the Washington Wizards or Joe Montana with the Kansas Metropolis Chiefs or George Foreman battling tomato cans, but he is also not the refreshing-faced pup in the oversized polo who took Augusta National by storm two decades ago and in no way seemed back again.

Do not get the completely wrong thought: Woods just isn’t prepared to go any ceremonial torch to the younger generation, a person now brimming with superstars. What he is prepared for is the underdog position. The male who has endured so numerous surgical procedures he should not be equipped to wander. The male who was the oldest player in this week’s area. The male who was 1,167 planet rating spots guiding the up coming cheapest-ranked competitor in the Bahamas.

Woods completed in a share of ninth spot at Albany Golfing Club, but for maybe the initially time in his occupation, he led the area in humility.

“I imagine it really is extremely flattering, extremely humbling, that so numerous persons really loved what I have finished all through my initially 20 several years on Tour,” he stated of the attention his return been given. “I place a couple of smiles and couple of excitements into people’s life, and as an athlete it really is extremely humbling.”

The evolution of Tiger is equivalent sections intriguing and startling. It is as if his rigid exterior has melted, revealing a softened core. He has stared occupation mortality in the confront on various instances.

Which assists demonstrate why the existing comeback is not like the preceding types. This feels like a celebration of all the things he has meant to the video game. There is no scandal this time, no controversy, none of the previous problems which proved he is much from flawless. He has remodeled from polarizing to likeable, his mere presence on the leaderboard a paean to individuals good ol’ glory times.

It was just following high noon on Thursday when a couple of hundred spectators collected all over the initially tee at Albany, their collective gaze zipping previous Thomas, the reigning player of the 12 months and most current key champion, to the person who used to make these honors a regularity. As much as Tiger galleries go, this a person was a mere smattering. As much as galleries go in this secluded tropical vacation resort, it was Tigermania all around once again.

3 times later on, as Tiger cleaned up a 3-putt bogey on the remaining gap, he been given a hero’s response from the team of spectators that experienced ballooned to substantially more than a smattering.

There was a excitement in the air, and it experienced small to do with Fowler’s unconscionably minimal round to gain. It was all about the event host.

“I imagine it really is extremely flattering, extremely humbling, that so numerous persons really loved what I have finished all through my initially 20 several years on Tour.”

Tiger Woods speaking about his legacy so much

Now, we all get it: Idiot me a person, disgrace on you idiot me 2 times, disgrace on me. We have been in these predicaments in advance of, the place Woods appears prepared to deal with a full routine, only to injure himself once again.

And so as substantially as any individual needs to scream “Tiger is back again!” from the rooftops, that idea will come with a healthy dose of cautious optimism. We would like to think that he’ll contend at Torrey Pines up coming thirty day period, web site of eight occupation professional victories. We would like to imagine he’ll be at Riviera, once again as a event host. And then PGA National and Bay Hill, his initially visual appearance at the latter considering the fact that the death of a person of his mentors, Arnold Palmer.

We would like to know all of that is accurate, primary straight into the Masters, the place perhaps — just perhaps — an older Tiger could clearly show his young buddies a point or two.

The aspiration state of affairs is uncomplicated to visualize — a back again-9 leaderboard chock full of 20-a little something superstars, their names interrupted by a 42-12 months-aged trying to get his fifth occupation eco-friendly jacket.

Even Woods understands what this would mean for the video game.

“It would be fun,” he stated Sunday. “It would be a ton of fun for me and I imagine it would be a ton of fun for them. The camaraderie has been incredible. For them to pick up the cellular phone and for them to text me a ton and contact me a ton to try and get me out there enjoying. … ‘Let’s participate in currently, let us participate in tomorrow, let us participate in the up coming working day.’ They want me to contend, they want me to occur back again. They’re performing all the things they can to assist me out.”

This is a new Tiger. He is humble, he smiles, he thanks his fellow gamers. He tells dad jokes and busts guys’ chops for needing a haircut.

He also owns a small more standpoint on his position. He is a person of the older fellas now, but that won’t mean he are not able to nevertheless switch back again the clock.

Like he claims, Father Time is undefeated. But maybe Woods can nevertheless give him a good match on the back again 9.

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