3 reasons Tiger Woods’ return to golf is already a big win

Well, here we are again. Another week, another hopeful return by the greatest golfer to ever pick up a steel-shafted driver (no offense, Mr. Nicklaus).

Tiger Woods returns to golf on Thursday with just 17 other competitors, like a baseball player returning from injury but spending his first few weeks in the minor leagues to get his ballplayer legs back under him.

And when Tiger is back on the golf course, the sports world takes a break from the Warriors and the Cowboys and the Cubs to focus on one man, even if he’s 40 years old and hasn’t won in three years.

Win or lose, 65 or 85, here are the reasons it’ll be a net positive come Sunday with whatever goes down with Woods’ golf game and finish at the Hero World Challenge.

He is still out there battling

If you can, think back to the days of Tiger’s prime. He was facing off against Davis Love III, David Duval, Vijay Singh, Ernie Els and Phil Mickelson.

Only one of those names, Mr. Mickelson, is still on the PGA Tour battling for wins, and most of the guys that got humiliated by Woods or somehow sneaked by him aren’t even on the PGA Tour anymore.

Tiger is still trying. He’s still going through all the work that one has to put in to not go out and embarrass oneself on the golf course. He still talks about practice and gym time and perfecting his craft. With 14 majors and 79 PGA Tour wins and all the trophies one could ever want, he is still trying to find a way to generate some level of talent that used to make us believe he was invincible.

The problem for Tiger is he has proven that he isn’t. He has struggled off the tee and with his putting and has skulled and chunked and bladed chip shots in front of millions of viewers. That could be enough to force a great golfer to give up the game for another gig. Plenty have. But Tiger hasn’t, and that’s impressive.

He’s doing all this knowing the outcome could be treacherous

Do you know how bad it must feel to be the most talked about person at your respective craft in the world and fall directly on your face with everyone watching? Of course not — only a handful of people in this world could understand that level of humiliation.

Tiger has already gone through this, at Torrey Pines (shooting a 79 there in 2014) and TPC Scottsdale (an 82 in 2015), the Memorial (an 85 in 2015 and a 79 in 2013) and the U.S. Open (16-over and a missed cut in 2015). He’s posted astronomically high rounds on golf courses he used to own, and yet has continued to stay out there and grind.

This is a man that is expected to fail by most in this sport who follow it (and if you are being honest with yourself, you probably think something similar). His name means a lot in this sport, but his game hasn’t been PGA Tour-quality since that playoff loss to Zach Johnson at this very event three years ago (his final-round 67 at the Greenbrier in 2015 was solid, but he wasn’t roaring down the stretch with a chance at victory).

When Michael Jordan made a comeback with the Wizards, he did it because he couldn’t leave the game. He loved it. He was obsessed with it. He didn’t want to let that piece of his life go, because he didn’t really know life without it.

Tiger is similar, and this is proving just that. Maybe this start is the golf version of Jordan's later Wizards stint, but it might end up more like MJ's first start in that Bulls No. 45 jersey. We don’t know, and I’m not sure even Tiger knows what will happen when he’s between those ropes. He’s hoping for greatness, but it could be another ridiculous finish if things look like they did last time. That’s the risk he’s taking.

He’s taking on the new greats of the game, the hungriest cast of players golf has ever seen

I know Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson and Justin Rose are fired up to see Tiger return, but they are also fired up to win an important event with some of the best in the world attending.

When pegs go in the ground Thursday, they’ll be trying to beat up on Tiger just like they will be everyone else in this field. This is the deepest the PGA Tour has ever been, with the youngest talent golf has ever seen. A lot of these guys grew up watching Tiger play and win at a phenomenal level. And while they’ll be excited to see what Tiger does, just like the rest of us — if, by some miracle he’s in contention come Sunday, they will be trying to leave him in the dust and show him what they are made of as we near 2017.

Tiger has plenty of personal demons to deal with on the golf course, but he also has 17 other players that have absolutely no problem going out and firing a 62 on this golf course, and that’s just the first step in this return.

No matter where Tiger finishes, barring any injury, he will have to endure another break before he can get into some competitive rhythm. And while he’s spent plenty of time around these great players, going shot for shot with them will remind him just how little fear the best golfers in the world have and what type of shots they can pull off with ease.