ORLANDO – A keen observer of the golf swing, Padraig Harrington, like so many other golf enthusiasts, tuned into The Match last Saturday expressly to see what Tiger Woods looked like in his first public appearance since the British Open in July. Suffice to say, Harrington was impressed.
“You never doubt Tiger’s mental ability, and it’s always one where he’s able to come back, and you don’t want to give up,” Harrington said at a press conference ahead of the PNC Championship on Thursday, where he will play alongside son Paddy in the 20-team event. “He looked physically better during that race and the speed… I’m interested in that. You know, you’d never let Tiger run off, but I actually think he might be in a better place than I thought.”
To hear Harrington tell it, Woods, who played just nine league rounds this year and turns 47 later this month, showed enough on The Match, where he teamed with Rory McIlroy and lost to Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, to believe that better days are ahead for the 15-time big winner, especially in the majors.
“I’m not saying he ‘could be’, in fact I believe he will be a danger,” Harrington said. “I think he’s going to win another major. The way I looked at him, I really think he’s going to be in the fight.”
Harrington, who has trained obsessively to improve his ball speed and hit 193 mph this year while leading the PGA Tour Champions in driving distance, marveled at Tiger’s numbers on Saturday, who hit 178 mph twice during The Match.
Tiger Woods of the United States plays his second stroke on the seventh hole during The Match 7 at Pelican at Pelican Golf Club on December 10, 2022 in Belleair, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images for The Match)
“I want to go and see it in person,” said Harrington when asked if he would go and watch Tiger on the PNC’s range. “I think he needs a bit of physicality, like in that ball speed. It’s just hard when you go up against these young guys, there are so many of them they hit it and they overwhelm golf courses. If you can’t stick with that a bit at first I don’t think I would – you have no doubt Tiger is good in the last nine holes but the little extra speed will help him in the first 63 holes . Those last nine holes, you know, who would want to come up against Tiger, all those young guys, you know. You know he is capable of anything at that stage. And yes, I think he’s in a better position to get through those last nine holes.”
Woods was forced to pull out of the Hero World Challenge earlier this month due to plantar fasciitis and suggested that even at best he will only try to play the majors and a very limited schedule beyond that. Woods was able to use a golf cart at The Match and will again this week at the PNC Championship at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club, which is played under PGA Tour Champions rules and allows carts. The question for Tiger is whether his body will hold up and allow him to turn back the clock once more and break a tie with Sam Snead for most Tour wins and closer to Jack Nicklaus and the record of 18 major men’s titles to come.
“When I’ve seen him hit balls, he looks a lot like the Tiger Woods before the accident,” said Stewart Cink. “But it’s just more days of traveling around and walking up and down hills. I wouldn’t even pretend to know what he’s going through. But he told me about some pre-round things he needs to do. He’s not really keen on telling you much, but he told me some, and I don’t know if I’d still try here. I don’t know. He just has a fascinating drive in him and I don’t think the swinging balls on the range will tell you much. It’s more about how he feels at the end of the day when he’s walking around on foot.”
Story originally appeared on GolfWeek