Tiger Woods is now five tournaments into his comeback, and Butch Harmon has been hugely impressed by his encouraging performances… apart from his driving!

Tiger Woods is back, he’s played five PGA Tour events, missed the cut only once, and I think he’s been very impressive overall. It’s surprising considering nobody, even Tiger himself, had much of an idea about how he would perform, and I think what we’ve seen has been a very pleasant surprise for all of us.

Obviously he still has a long way to go before being the Tiger Woods we all hope he can become again, but so far, he has looked very good.

Tiger Woods has made an impressive return to PGA Tour action

Tiger Woods has made an impressive return to PGA Tour action

His immense swing speed with the driver is perhaps the biggest surprise of all, but you could also say that’s the thing that’s holding him back when you consider what he did off the tee on the 16th hole at Bay Hill.

Tiger was one shot off the lead coming to the easiest hole on the course, tried to hit a hard, left-to-right slider with his driver and pulled it out-of-bounds. In the past, he’s knocked his driver over the bunkers down the right side of that fairway, like we saw Rory McIlroy do on Sunday.

Woods has been dialled in with his irons and his short game has been great, but his driving is poor

Woods has been dialled in with his irons and his short game has been great, but his driving is poor

If Tiger can get his driver more squared-away, he could be a force to be reckoned with at Augusta National, but he’s just got to drive the ball much better.

Encouraging

But the rest of his game looks really encouraging, and looks like the Tiger of old. His distance control with his irons has been fabulous and his putting has obviously been very good.

Many thought his chipping could be suspect when you think back to the problems he had when he returned after a lengthy absence late in 2014, but his touch around the greens this year has been phenomenal.

Tiger Woods noticed further improvements in his game and was keen to take the positives from another strong week at Bay Hill

Tiger Woods noticed further improvements in his game and was keen to take the positives from another strong week at Bay Hill

The only big question mark has to be his driver. At the Valspar Championship he was able to hit a lot of irons off the tee and got the ball in play, but he has not found many fairways with the driver. If he can get that sorted out over the next couple of weeks, the Masters will be even more exciting with Tiger in contention.

He will need to hit the driver off the tee more at the Masters and, although there is no punishing rough at Augusta National – just a “first cut” – there is still plenty of trouble to be found if you keep missing fairways.

Tiger Woods rattles the flag as he goes a whisker away from an unlikely birdie during the final round at Bay Hill

Tiger Woods rattles the flag as he goes a whisker away from an unlikely birdie during the final round at Bay Hill

You have to drive it well to compete at Augusta to give yourself the second shots that you need into some very tough greens, and there are too many holes where Tiger will not be able to hit iron off the tee.

We’ll have to wait and see the results of the work he will undoubtedly put in before he gets there, but he’s got two full weeks to work on his accuracy. If Tiger can get his ball in play regularly at the Masters, he could easily be up there contending for a win on Sunday.

Throttle back?

There have been many coaches and pundits urging Tiger to maybe “throttle back” a little with his driver and focus more on accuracy rather than distance. He certainly has the ability to do that, but whether his ego will let him do that, I’m not so sure!

He has always taken great pride in his swing speed and how far he can hit it, but he can hit that driver plenty far enough with just a normal swing. But he is doing what he thinks he has to do and, overall, I’ve been very impressed with his play over the last month – even with the poor driving.

Claude Harmon looks at how Tiger Woods’ swing has changed since his began his comeback to PGA Tour action at Torrey Pines in January

Claude Harmon looks at how Tiger Woods’ swing has changed since his began his comeback to PGA Tour action at Torrey Pines in January

The main thing for all golf fans is that Tiger is clearly healthy, and there’s no sign of the pain he has had to endure in his back in recent years. I talked to him at Torrey Pines back in January and he told me it was the first time in years that he was walking and playing without any pain or discomfort.

He now has the ability to practice a lot more, and it looks like all of his game is ready to go with the exception of the driving. That’s a big key, but it’s an area he will be working hard on to improve.

Humbled

When you look at what he’s been through over the last few years, I think he’s been humbled by that experience. I think we’re now seeing a guy who is enjoying a “mulligan on life”!

He’s now got the chance to rekindle his career and he’s in a far better place both professionally and in his personal life, and he seems to be enjoying himself a lot more on the course. He’s playing a lot more in practice with other PGA Tour players and they’re all saying Tiger is fun to be around again.

Woods has looked happier and more relaxed on the course this year

Woods has looked happier and more relaxed on the course this year

Tiger is having a good time, and it shows he is a lot more comfortable in himself, who he is, and what he’s doing on the golf course.

This time last year he wasn’t sure if his back problems would ever go away, and he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to live a normal, healthy life again – let alone get back to playing golf at the highest level. So there’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that Tiger has learned a large amount of perspective on life in general.

There were times when he couldn’t walk, or even get himself out of bed, and his troublesome back was a huge concern for him. He had four operations on his back, but the spinal fusion surgery he had last year appears to have done the trick.

Woods will need to improve his driving to contend at Augusta

Woods will need to improve his driving to contend at Augusta

It’s really amazing to watch him swing the club the way he is after all those surgeries, and I can’t think of anyone that has looked anywhere near as good playing with a fused spine.

But then again, this is Tiger Woods. Nothing he does should ever be that much of a surprise!

People were saying he couldn’t win again and that he’d never have another chance to win a major. I would never say never where Tiger Woods is concerned. He’s been going up against the best young players in the world on some tough golf courses, and I think he’s proved that he is almost there.

The pieces of the puzzle have been carefully put together in his game, and now he’s just waiting to fit in the last piece – driving the ball in play.

Live World Golf Championships

March 21, 2018, 2:15pm

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