Chat with Jason Sobel
Woods announced on Thursday afternoon on his website that he would return to next week's Accenture Match Play Championship.
Among his other duties, Sobel writes a weekly column, the "Weekly 18."
Send your questions now and join Jason on Friday at noon ET!
Jason Sobel (11:59 AM)
So I was gonna start off with some cutesy-type thing about how there's huge news in golf -- Anthony Kang is in front at the Johnnie Walker Classic ... or something like that. But c'mon, it's no time for jokes: Tiger is coming back next week and I know you all want to talk about it. I'm here for an hour before getting on his teleconference at 1 ET, so let's get to the questions...
Chris (Sacramento CA)
Jason, Do you think Tiger has a real shot next weekend or is this a mistake for him returning so early?
Jason Sobel (12:02 PM)
Two totally different questions. First, does he have a shot? Of course. Dude has won this event in three of the last six years and is the world's preeminent match-play competitor -- even more so than stroke play. That said, will it be construed as a "mistake" if he doesn't win? I don't think so. Unless he takes a swing and somehow blows out his knee again, it's never a mistake to come back to work. I mean, he's gotta return at some point, right?
Chad Philadelphia, PA
Do you see Tiger dominating the Match Play like he did last year or will he have a tough time in his first event back?
Jason Sobel (12:03 PM)
Let's remember: He won last year and dominated in the final against Stewart Cink, but it's not like the result was a foregone conclusion all week. It took about 8,000 feet worth of made putts over the last few holes on Wednesday just to beat J.B. Holmes, so don't expect Woods to go "9-and-8, Stephen Ames-style" on all his opponents.
Will (Potomac Falls, VA)
Jason, what have you heard about Tiger's swing? Will it be less detrimental to his legs or is he just gonna came back as usual?
Jason Sobel (12:06 PM)
Can only go by what I've heard, since I haven't seen him. I don't think "detrimental" is the right word. It will be slightly different, just because he was basically playing without a ligament before so he was forced to straighten his knee upon finishing. So the swing will change because his body has changed, but it's not because he is purposely trying to avoid further wear and tear. That said, I don't think the untrained eye will notice much, if anything, without seeing a slo-mo split-screen of the two swings on TV -- something I'm sure they'll show us ad nauseum throughout the week.
If he does lose in teh first or second round, do you think the media will freak out like they did when he went a while without winning any majors?
Jason Sobel (12:09 PM)
Look, we're the media and he's the world's most popular athlete. We freak out when the guy eats breakfast in the morning. But I get what you're saying and no, I don't think anyone will start taking him to task and saying his game is ruined if he doesn't go far in next week's tourney. By the way, some food for thought: If the brackets don't change between now and Sunday night, Woods will play Brendan Jones in Round 1 and the winner of Tim Clark/Retief Goosen in Round 2. If this was the NCAA tourney, we'd be referring to that as a "stacked region." And if TW loses to a guy like Goosen, who was a NO. 1 seed just a few years ago? Sure, it's an upset, but only a slight one.
Jason, is it possible for Woods to come back better than before like some are saying?
Jason Sobel (12:11 PM)
Absolutely. Look, this guy raised the bar higher than we'd ever seen before. Can he take it up the next level now that he's healthy? I'll say this much: If you constantly doubt this guy, you'll constantly be wrong. If anything, he'll be just as good as before. Even if it takes a few tourneys, Woods won't come back as a worse player than he was eight months ago.
Andrew, Chicago, IL
Tiger will return to form, whether it is in 1 tourney or 10, my question is, how will the rest of the PGA tour handle Tiger's return? Will they wilt as they have over the past 10 seasons?
Jason Sobel (12:13 PM)
I absolutely hate the notion that players "wilt" in front of Tiger. Or that they are intimidated. Or scared. Gimme a break. When players are out on the course, the last thing on their minds is Tiger Woods and what he's doing -- I can guarantee that. The problem is simply that he's better than everyone else. Of course, when TW isn't dominating -- like in, say, the 2004 season -- instead of everyone saying the other guys stepped up, it's widely acknowledged that Woods is "in a slump." At some point, you just have to take things at face value. He's better than everyone else. Doesn't mean he'll win every tournament, but oftentimes there's not a whole lot anyone else can do to stop him.
Corey (Baltimore, MD)
As the world has been waiting for Tiger's return, what would be better for the game of golf, Tiger getting into a serious match, or just blowing away the competition?
Jason Sobel (12:15 PM)
Good question. I think it's always good for the game of golf to have great competitive matches -- whether Tiger is involved or not. then again, if he goes out and wins every match 6 and 5 next week, the hype machine will be set to full power, which isn't exactly a bad thing, either.
Do you think Tiger's new child will affect his game at all?
Jason Sobel (12:16 PM)
Not one bit. When Tiger won his first event after Sam Alexis' birth two years ago (the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational), he was later asked if he was thinking about her on the course. Woods responded that no, he never thinks about that kind of stuff, is only worried about the next shot and winning the tournament. I don't think baby No. 2 is going to destroy that on-course focus at all.
Jim (Philadelphia, PA)
Didn't you find it a little convenient that Tiger announced his comeback after Phil Mickelson had posted a -8 for his first good round of the season?
Jason Sobel (12:18 PM)
I found it to be a coincidence tinged with irony, but nothing more. There are those conspiracy theorists who believe Tiger made the announcement at that time just to upstage Phil's round, but that can't be further from the truth. I don't think anything Woods has ever done has been contingent upon what Mickelson is doing, and vice versa.
Dave (Garfield Heights, Ohio)
When we all saw Stevie say a few days ago that Tiger was weeks away, I immediately thought "Ok, that probably means he'll be back next week." Do you think he was just not up to speed with his boss, or was that an intentional misdirect?
Jason Sobel (12:19 PM)
Well, Camp Woods has never been averse to a good smokescreen. I know Tiger and Stevie often speak with each other, so I'm sure the caddie knew what the situation was. I think it was just a matter of people reading too much into the comments.
say tiger does come out and win the Accenture,does that finally prove to the critics that he is the best to ever play the game.
Jason Sobel (12:21 PM)
What critics? I mean, sure, there are those who believe Bobby Jones may have been the greatest competitor or Ben Hogan had the sweetest swing or Jack Nicklaus was the greatest champion, but I don't think there's anyone who doesn't hold Woods in the same regard as those guys. And if he wins next week? No, it won't do anything to change their minds. If you think Jack is the best ever, it's because he owns more majors than Tiger; unless Woods can win five majors next week, no one's opinion should be reversed based on what occurs.
how do you think tiger has impeded the progress of some of these other guys. I mean, if he never existed someone would have had to win all those majors?
Jason Sobel (12:23 PM)
Well, I guess you'd just have to take the runner-up at each of his major wins and give them a title. I believe that means Ernie Els would have 5 or 6 majors now instead of just three, Sergio Garcia would still be searching for his second after winning as a 19-year-old and some random guys like Chris DiMarco and Bob May would be major winners. But I'm not sure it's really "impeded their progress." It's not like Tiger is keeping them from becoming better players.
Frank (Hunt Valley, MD)
What do you think the overall response from the players on tour will be?
Jason Sobel (12:26 PM)
They want him back. They really do. When you're a word-class player, you want to compete against the best and have a chance to beat the best. And they know Tiger kind of steers the ship, too. We've had some great winners this year, from Geoff Ogilvy to Zach Johnson to Kenny Perry, but the casual fans aren't paying attention. Tiger's Q-rating is 10 times that of everyone else on Tour put together, so yes, it's beneficial for everyone to have him in the mix.
Chris (Chicago, IL)
Does it get old having to answer over and over the same questions? What else does Tiger have to prove?
Jason Sobel (12:27 PM)
Tiger sees motivation in the little challenges. You're right -- he doesn't have anything left to prove in his career. But there are those who doubt he will return with the same success rate as before the injury and he will use that as motivation during his comeback.
What record do you think Tiger breaks first? All time majors record or all time tour victories?
Jason Sobel (12:30 PM)
Great question. He needs five more majors to break Jack's record of 18 and 21 more PGA Tour victories to break Sam Snead's record of 85. Can I say he'll do it at the same time? Maybe the 2011 Masters or so -- that seems about the right time for each of these records to fall. And probably about the time my two typing fingers eventually just seize up in that position, when I wind up blogging about a million words that week. Speaking of which...
Are you going to live blog Tiger's return?
Jason Sobel (12:32 PM)
I was going to save this as a super special secret surprise at the end of this chat, but since you'll probably bail on me long before then anyway, I might as well tell you now ... yes, the Live Blog will return next week, as I'll be on site in Tucson covering each of Tiger's matches with minute-to-minute updated posts. Not sure about his tee time yet, but check back on Wednesday and the blog will be there. Looking forward to having all of you contribute to it, too...
Aaron: (Columbia, MO) [via mobile]
Jason, I saw your comment about other players acknowledging that TW is the best. Is this true? Some players have to believe that they can "take down" the Tiger
Jason Sobel (12:36 PM)
Both are true. They all acknowledge that he is the best. Even Phil Mickelson came out last year and said he could win 30 more PGA Tour events and 10 more majors -- and still not reach the levels that Tiger has. (Read that sentence again. A future HOFer and one of the top 20-25 players of all-time could add the career of a top-5 all-time player and still not equal Tiger's career. Unreal.) But that doesn't mean they don't have the inner belief that they can "take down" Tiger. The guy is great, but he's not invincible. Take the Match Play, for instance. He owns a 31-6 career record, which is outstanding, but he's also lost to Nick O'Hern (twice), Peter O'Malley, Darren Clarke ... so it proves that he doesn't win everything, everywhere. Playing the underdog role, where you're not supposed to win anyway, is often very comforting for players. It takes away much of the pressure.
Jeff Annapolis, Md.
We all know Tiger is the best putter in the world and has one of the best short games. Since he could not take full swings for a while do you think he will come back with an even stronger short game?
Jason Sobel (12:40 PM)
Rumor is, Tiger stepped up his short game in lieu of being able to take full swings before the first of the year. Of course, it's all just rumors. And it really doesn't matter who great his short game looked on the Isleworth putting green in December if it doesn't translate to success upon his return.
Shannon Baton Rouge, LA
Jason, if Tiger owns the Tourney next week, what would you think his chances are at taking the Grand Slam this year?
Jason Sobel (12:41 PM)
Those are two mutually exclusive things. If Tiger wins the Match Play, it will give him the confidence to know he can still succeed with his rebuilt knee, but it has no effect on his status at the majors. As I wrote yesterday, he'd trade a few lackluster results to kick things off if it meant he could be peaking on April 9 for the opening round of the Masters.
Patrick ( Louisville )
In the younger than Tiger gen. do you think Vilegas or Kim will have more staying power? Anyone else?
Jason Sobel (12:44 PM)
I like Kim's game better over the long haul, but they're both fantastic players. That said, those guys are grizzled old veterans now compared with the next-gen talents like Danny Lee, Ryo Ishikawa and Rory McIlroy. I'd never anoint any of them to be Tiger's next rival (or, some might say, his first rival), but they're all great players who will make a name for themselves on major stages for a long time to come. And really, they're not much younger than guys like Sergio Garcia, Adam Scott, Justin Rose, Trevor Immelman...I could go on and on. Lots of great players in the 17-30 age group right now.
Mark (st. paul, MN)
Do you think Anthony Kim will place higher than Tiger in any tournament this year that he plays in? Hasnt happened yet.
Jason Sobel (12:46 PM)
The funniest part is that AK didn't know that fact until someone told him at the Mercedes-Benz Championship earlier this year. And when Kim was asked how many majors Woods owns, he guessed eight. Wow, must be nice to be young and naive, huh? But yeah, the law of averages states that at some point Kim will beat TW in a tourney. Still, tough to consider him the next big rival if he's never done so in the past.
Steve: Stafford, VA
Jason what do you think Tiger's greatest challenge will be during that first competitive round in 8 months?
Jason Sobel (12:48 PM)
Honestly, I think it will be trying to pace himself and slow down a bit. With a billion people both inside and outside the ropes, he may feel the need to hit every tee shot 400 yards and knock every iron to 6 inches. But it's not going to happen that way. He needs to pace himself, play his own game and take it one shot at a time, like he always does.
Is this the best scenario for Tiger to come back to? Match play can be a tough battle, but stroke play lets Tiger take his time getting back into competition mode. Does playing with the enemy hurt Tiger's chances?
Jason Sobel (12:50 PM)
If his main intent is to win -- and that's always his main intent -- I think Tiger has a better chance of accomplishing it at the Match Play, where he only has to beat one player at a time, than at, say, Doral, where he'd have to shoot a better score over 72 holes than 119 other players. I don't think being paired with "the enemy" ever hurts his chances. If anything, it only bolsters them.
Brian (Winston Salem, NC)
Will we see Tiger playing with any new clubs this year? Can we watch the teleconference?
Jason Sobel (12:52 PM)
I believe he'll have the same Nike Victory irons that he was using last year. And no, the teleconference will not be televised. Of course, there's no video anyway, so there wouldn't be anything to watch.
Raj: Annandale, VA
What is to be said of Tiger losing on Wednesday, if that were to happen?
Jason Sobel (12:53 PM)
I think we have to watch it happen and then come to a conclusion. If he plays well and just gets beaten by Brendan Jones, then it's tough to criticize. If Tiger hacks it around like a 16-handicap, then we'll know something went wrong.
jason. lets say tiger wins 1 major this year. if you look at the venues for next year's majors, he will have andrews and pebble. not only will next year probably be his best bet for the grand slam based on prior records at the venues, but if he does only win 1 this year, a grand slam next year would put him at 19. now that would make for some story...
Jason Sobel (12:55 PM)
A great story? Absolutely. But let's not start handing the guy records just yet that no one has ever achieved. To make a comparison from another sport, would it be a great story if someone like Adrian Peterson rushed for 30 TDs? Of course, but a little overly optimistic to be talking about it beforehand.
Patrick (Salisbury, MD)
What other tournaments do you expect Tiger to play in the next few weeks?
Jason Sobel (12:56 PM)
If past history has taught us anything, I believe after Match Play, he'll play Doral, then Bay Hill, giving him three tourney starts before the Masters.
Jason Sobel (12:57 PM)
OK, that's all for me today. Thanks for all the questions. Be sure to check out my Live Blog from the Match Play starting on Wednesday. I'm off to listen to what Tiger has to say in his teleconference. Until next time, hit 'em straight...