In some ways that energy has already started to build. When word filtered throughout Riviera Country Club last Thursday that Woods was coming back, the entire vibe around the Northern Trust Open changed. His peers talked about his impact on the course and at the gate. Yet Woods was quick to remind people that he is a golfer, not a savior. "The only thing I can control is, obviously, my play," he said during a conference call. "We as a collective whole on the PGA Tour have to do a better job of making sure we appreciate all the fans and sponsors for what they do for us and allowing us to have an opportunity to compete and play for a living. I think over the years we may have taken that for granted. Now is a time that reality certainly has checked in."
Woods's reentry paid immediate dividends for the Match Play. After attracting 128 media outlets and 379 journalists last year, when Woods defeated Stewart Cink 8 and 7 in the final, the tournament this year issued credentials for more than 175 outlets and 500 media members. The list includes the network nightly news shows, CNN, the BBC and even a publication from Sweden, the home country of Woods's wife, Elin.
The unanswered question is how well Woods will perform. He's won 65 Tour events and 11 more tournaments worldwide, but will he be the same golfer after an eight-month layoff? Woods says even he is curious to see, but his peers have little doubt. They envision a golfer inspired by the birth of his second child (Charlie Axel, on Feb. 8), a golfer hitting shots pain-free for the first time in nearly two years, a golfer accustomed to carrying the game on his shoulders.
"I actually think he'll be as good as ever, if not better," Padraig Harrington said in the gloaming on Thursday at Riviera. "A long and forced break makes you love the game even more, if it's possible for him to do that."
Rocco Mediate, who pushed Woods to 91 holes at last year's U.S. Open in San Diego, would know better than most what to expect. "He's the man, he's the king, he's it," Mediate said. "Our Tour's cool, but it's really cool with him. I guarantee you that he wins [the Accenture Match Play]. You think he's coming out not 180,000 percent? He's not coming out going, Let's see how I do. That's not going to happen. He's still Tiger."
The golf world and everything it touches can only hope.