Over the weekend, a familiar story repeated itself: Tiger Woods returned to professional golf. The event in question, this time, was the casual but star-studded Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, and the time elapsed since his last competitive round was 10 months, during which Woods underwent another in a string of back surgeries and was arrested for driving under the influence of painkillers. The outcome was in keeping with his comebacks from injuries in recent years; Woods looked at some times like the best player in the world, which he used to be, and at others like the 668th-best player, which is where he’s presently ranked. He shot eight under par for the tournament and finished in ninth place in an 18-player field.
Returning too was the hype that still surrounds the 41-year-old Woods. His last PGA Tour victory came in 2013, and his last major championship, the category by which he and his fans have charted his career, came five years before that, at the 2008 U.S. Open. Still, despite the series of false starts and setbacks that have plagued Woods in the interim, no other golfer—and few athletes of any sort—can draw attention like him. His competitors spent the weekend tracking his progress; sports luminaries tuned in like it was Game 7 of the NBA Finals. After a strong second round, betting lines fluctuated so wildly that Woods was immediately installed as one of the favorites for April’s Masters tournament. Media coverage had a hopeful, almost rooting-for-him tone; a New York Times headline on Friday referred to his temporary position atop the tournament’s leaderboard as “A Fleeting but Welcome Sight.”