Monday, August 20, 2018

Tiger Woods is looking like … Tiger Woods

PALM HARBOR — Can Tiger Woods be Tiger Woods again?
Really, that's all we want to know, right? Can he win again? Can he dominate again? Can he add more trophies to his mantle and more green jackets to his wardrobe?

Can the guy who used to be the best golfer on the planet once again become the best golfer on the planet?

That's partly what this week is about. That's why the Valspar Championship at Innisbrook is such a big deal. This could be the sight of Tiger's return to greatness. Or at least his return to the top of the leaderboard.

Of course, we might be asking way too much. Tiger was so good back in the day that we likely will never see anything like him ever again, not even from Tiger.

He's 42. He has had four back surgeries. And the PGA Tour seems to be growing young stars like weeds.

But maybe, every now and then, we'll catch a glimpse of the old Tiger.

That's what the enormous crowd on the Copperhead Course was hoping for Thursday. Those who have been at this event for years swear they had never before seen a crowd like the one attending the Valspar's first round.

Thousands upon thousands stood 10 and 20 deep in some spots just to get a peek at Tiger. Valspar doesn't get crowds like that on Sunday, and this was only Thursday.

Many staked out a spot hours ahead of time. They were polite, for the most part, but occasionally a bit testy, too, as they rubbed shoulders, stood on tiptoe and peeked through little openings just to see Tiger swing a 2-iron or maybe take a couple of putts. Tiger brings out all the emotions of a crowd, from excitement to rudeness, from appreciation to frustration.

Hey, it's Tiger Woods Week. Fans are going to do whatever they can just in case Tiger turns back into Tiger.

HIGHLIGHTS: See the best of Tiger Woods' first round.

And, you know, there were a few moments Thursday when he rewarded them for their patience and wishes. Those were the times when you thought, "Hey, maybe Tiger's comeback isn't so crazy after all. Maybe this can be the week."

Like when his magnificent flop shot set up a birdie on the first hole. Like when his back-to-back birdies on 10 and 11 pushed him to 2 under for the day and just two shots off the lead. Like when he nearly made a hole-in-one on No. 17, sticking his drive just a couple of feet from the hole.

Or best of all, like his shot out of the woods on No. 16 when he let the club fly out of his hands to keep from breaking his arm on a tree trunk.

"My forearm hit the tree a little bit,'' he said.

This was vintage Tiger, turning oh-no into oh-wow. This was the magic the crowd was hoping for, and it responded with the loudest roars Innisbrook had all day.

"Still working on it,'' Woods said when asked where his game is. But you could tell he was pleased.

He should have been. Thursday was a good round for Tiger. A 1-under 70 was pretty impressive on a difficult course on a windy, chilly day. If he could have just knocked down a few more makeable putts, he might have been leading.

"This is a tough course,'' he said.

The stiff wind that came and went without warning, and then changed direction suddenly, had golfers all over the course guessing (and guessing wrongly) how it was going to affect their ball. Tiger and his playing partners, Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson, left shots short on some holes and flew the greens on others.

The Cooperhead Course had plenty of bite in it, and Spieth, the 2015 champion here, never figured it out, finishing 5 over and in a tie for 122nd, two shots from the bottom. Yet Tiger grinded out a solid round in what he said was the most difficult test he has had in his 11 rounds of golf in 2018.

He was three shot back after the first day, and unless he completely falls apart today, he not only will make the cut and stick around for the weekend, he'll have a chance to make a move Saturday.

If you think Thursday was wild, imagine what the weekend will be like if Woods has a chance to win. Crowds will be even bigger, even louder and even more hopeful that Tiger can be the Tiger they came to see.

Is Tiger all the way back?

No, not yet. But he's getting closer. We'll know more after today's second round.

But you might want to set aside some time this weekend. You just might see Tiger Woods being Tiger Woods.

Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.

Rays defeat Royals thanks to pitching and replay

Rays defeat Royals thanks to pitching and replay

ST. PETERSBURG — That the Rays defeated the Royals 1-0 on Monday night — Tampa Bay's major-league-leading 51st one-run game — is not surprising. What is a bit unusual is how they did it.With two outs and runners on first and third i...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rays journal: Seminole’s Brett Phillips returns home

Rays journal: Seminole’s Brett Phillips returns home

ST. PETERSBURG — Brett Phillips played at Tropicana Field in 2012 when he was a senior at Seminole High and a member of Team Pinellas in the annual Hillsborough vs. Pinellas All-Star Game. He was just weeks away from being picked in the sixth r...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Who says preseason doesn’t count for Bucs?

Who says preseason doesn’t count for Bucs?

TAMPA — Monday was a beautiful day out at One Buc Place.Sunny. Blue skies. Hot, but not a thousand degrees like it has been in recent weeks around here.The Bucs were finally back home after spending most of the past week in Nashville. And despi...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Rodney Page’s takeaways from Monday’s Rays-Royals game

Rodney Page’s takeaways from Monday’s Rays-Royals game

Replay played a big role in the game. The Rays got their run in the second when an out call at first was overturned. Then in the fourth, Kevin Kiermaier was picked off second with no outs after a replay showed his hand came off the base.Ryan Yarbroug...
Updated: 3 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Tuesday, August 21

TODAYBaseballRays at Royals7 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMYankees at Marlins7 p.m.FSFIndians at Red Sox7 p.m.MLBCardinals at Dodgers10 p.m.ESPNBaseball, amateurAmerican Legion World Series7 p.m.ESPNUBaseball, Little League World SeriesElimination game: Coeur ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Bulls snubbed in preseason AP poll

Bulls snubbed in preseason AP poll

Less than two weeks before their season opener, the Bulls finally have a gaudy accessory to complement their new Adidas uniforms.The ol' chip on their shoulder pads.USF received no votes in the Associated Press preseason poll released Monday, marking...
Updated: 7 hours ago

Captain’s Corner: New moon has better grouper fishing farther offshore

Grouper fishing inside 160 feet continues to be a challenge due to the proximity of the new moon. This moon phase has the currents offshore moving at a pace that would rival a small river. Look for the bite to improve as we move away from this phase....
Updated: 9 hours ago
Vita Vea, Mitch Unrein injuries have Bucs scouring waiver wire again

Vita Vea, Mitch Unrein injuries have Bucs scouring waiver wire again

TAMPA — The Bucs continued to address their mounting injuries on defense by signing fifth-year defensive tackle Jerel Worthy.Rookie defensive tackle Vita Vea, the team's first round pick from Washington, hasn't played since suffering a calf str...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Justin Watson standing out in battle for Bucs’ final receiver spot

Justin Watson standing out in battle for Bucs’ final receiver spot

In the battle for the fifth receiver spot, Justin Watson needed to stand out.  Being 6-foot-3, 216 pounds helps. But the Penn rookie needed a play to separate himself from the pack.He got it at the end of the first half in Saturday's 30-14 win a...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Rob Kazmier’s Hernando County coaching roots get deeper

Rob Kazmier’s Hernando County coaching roots get deeper

BROOKSVILLE — Coach Kaz has been a Hernando County high school football fixture since his days as a 19-year-old volunteer assistant at Nature Coast. This season, he has a program to call his own.Rob Kazmier is the new head coach at Hernando Hig...
Updated: 12 hours ago