Tiger Woods was the best thing that ever happened to the golf business—until a personal scandal and injuries sidelined him from the sport’s top echelon.
Now he’s back. Woods has not won anything since 2013, and when he played in the 2016 Hero World Challenge, it was his first tournament in 15 months. But the comeback didn’t feel real until March of this year, when Woods tied for second at the Valspar Championship and made the little-known tournament the most-watched non-Major PGA Tour event since 2013. One week later, he tied for fifth at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Golf fans are energized: it appears to be a bona fide comeback.
His peers on the PGA Tour peers are loving it as well.
“It’s better than we even imagined,” says Kevin Streelman, who has been on Tour since 2001 and won the Travelers Championship in 2014. Streelman joined the Yahoo Finance Sportsbook podcast the day before this year’s Travelers Championship began. “It’s amazing, the ball speeds he’s getting, with the surgeries he’s had. It’s just remarkable to think he’s hitting 180-mile-per-hour ball speeds with a fused back. I wasn’t sure, when he came back, whether he would contend in big tournaments again, but he’s proved that theory immediately. He could have won Tampa [the Valspar Championship] if he had hit that last putt harder, and then being right there in a number of other big tournaments is pretty awesome for the start of a comeback.”
As television ratings have proven again and again: If Woods is in the hunt on the final day of a tournament, America tunes in. He is arguably the only currently active pro golfer with the individual power to attract non-golf fans on a significant scale. And his fellow golfers are likely well aware that Woods’s popularity in his prime was to thank for doubling golf prize purses.
Having Woods back in competition is “really good for global golf,” Streelman says. “And it’s fun seeing the young guys getting so amped up. My rookie year, I got to play with him at Torrey Pines in the final group, and it was just amazing. He was on top of the golf world, early 2008, something I’ll never forget. But it’s fun seeing him now, because he’s much more social with all of us. He’s kind of a big brother to a lot of the young guys… And seeing him mentor a bit to the younger players is what the game’s all about.”
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite .