Welcome to Teeing Off, where Devil Ball editor Jay Busbee and head writer Shane Bacon take a day's topic and smack it all over the course. Today Jonathan Wall steps in for Jay. Suggest a future topic by writing firstname.lastname@example.org, or hit us on Twitter at @jaybusbee, @shanebacon and @jonathanrwall. Today it's Tiger, Tiger, Tiger at Firestone.
Wall: You hear that faint noise off in the distance? I'm pretty sure it's the sound of golf fans cheering because for the first time since May, Tiger Woods is going to be teeing it up in a PGA Tour event. I don't think the anticipation is anywhere close to what it was when he first returned at the Masters last year, but you certainly can tell there's a buzz in the air at Firestone. I know most are hoping he shows up and wins the darn thing, but isn't it crazy to expect him to come back with all these questions about his health and expect him to play well with such little practice time?
Bacon: Well it's strange, really. You've got a guy that has played better at this course than anyone on any golf course ever, but a year ago, he hit it around Firestone like he didn't even know what a bunker was. We've always heard Tiger say that he won't play a golf tournament unless he thinks he can win, but honestly, this is just a prep for the PGA Championship, right? Not even Woods thinks he could come out and actually take this thing, does he?
Wall: I'm with you in thinking this is probably just prep for the PGA. No doubt Tiger would love to win his first tournament back from injury, but like a basketball player returning to the court, it's going to take some time to get back into the competitive flow. At this point in his career, the only thing that matters to Tiger is winning majors, and if he can get some tournament practice on a course he knows like the back of his hand, it's just a bonus. But I will say this, playing with pal Darren Clarke in the opening rounds won't hurt his chances. That's a pretty favorable pairing, don't you think?
Bacon: So if Tiger finishes tied for fifth this week, is that a good thing for Woods? Would he be happy with that? Is it to that point yet?
Sure, the Clarke thing will help his opening rounds, just because he can be with a friend that he really enjoys, but are we really to the point, with this long of a layoff, that a top 10 is a positive for Tiger heading into the PGA Championship?
Wall: Well he's certainly playing a course where he's had a lot of success. Seven wins in 11 tournament starts at Firestone is an absurd record, so you'd have to think a top 10 wouldn't be worth very much. But this is a completely different situation. Tiger needs a serious confidence boost going into the PGA, and I think top 5 or top 10 could do the trick.
Bacon: So, give me a prediction for Tiger this week. Where do you see him ending up at Firestone?
Wall: The layoff won't help, but I can't see Tiger finishing near the bottom like he did last year. I'll say T-20. And you?
Bacon: I don't think he's going to win, but I'll say a top 10 for Tiger and as much anticipation before a major as we've had in some time.
Now your thoughts? How will Tiger do in his second return of 2011?