Quick, how many competitive tournaments has Tiger Woods played over the last two calendar years? It’s six. Six tournaments. (The PNC Championship, fun as it is, does not count.) He’s completed three of them, withdrawing (2022 PGA, 2023 Masters) or missing the cut (2022 Open) in the remainder.

When I visited the OWGR site to view his recent playing history, I wasn’t surprised by the number. That the number felt high did surprise me. My natural reaction to seeing that Tiger has barely played competitive golf in years was “Yep, that’s about right.”

We’re about three years out from Tiger’s devastating L.A. car accident after the 2021 Genesis Invitational, which but for the “single-car” modifier could have been the most reputation-destroying moment of his entire career. (A career hardly lacking for other contenders.)

Instead it “only” further ruined his body. The general feeling was that he’d be fortunate to maintain a baseline quality of life while being a parent, that competitive golf was a distant dream, possibly even a fantasy. And since then, it’s been pretty much accurate. Tiger Woods: Competitive Professional Golfer has pretty much ceased to exist as an entity, being replaced by Tiger Woods: Elder Statesman, Tiger Woods: Supportive Father, and Tiger Woods: Apparel Maven.

Tiger returns this week at Riviera, the event he’s hosted since 2017, and an event with which he’s long been connected, going back to his PGA Tour debut in 1992. It’s hard to pin down at which point my brain flipped from seeing Tiger playing in a competitive event as one of the most obvious, right-feeling things in all of sports to being a noteworthy aberration, something to make sure to watch because who knows when it will happen again.

I can’t name the first time I saw most athletes, but I remember the first time I saw Tiger Woods. I saw the name first; I don’t know if there was anything cooler to 8 y/o me in 1995 than seeing a golfer named “Tiger Woods” was in the field at Shinnecock as I watched the opening round. (Totally normal summer vacation behavior, being glued to NBC as soon as the coverage window started.) And then I saw him and realized he was basically just a kid, too. He seemed like the coolest possible athlete.

Now, nearly thirty years later, Tiger remains appointment viewing. Not like at his peak, when you turned golf on because he was kicking ass on a weekly basis. But because, well, who the hell knows what it will look like? There’s no benchmark. We can get clubhead speed numbers and Trackman data and reports from playing partners about how he looks good again. We also don’t yet know if he’ll be able to handle walking for four days.

One thing is certain: we aren’t going to get a straight answer from him. I think that Tiger Woods, more than any other athlete, lives by the George Costanza mantra of “It’s not a lie if you believe it.” It’s an ability to construct whatever narrative he needs to succeed at whatever he’s trying to accomplish, while blocking out anything that contradicts that reality. He occasionally carries it through to the point of complete detachment from the world in which everyone else is living. It’s what gave him his singular competitive edge that, paired with unworldly physical gifts, allowed him to tame golf to a degree no one has or likely ever will match.

It also means that we truly have no idea how healthy he is, or what any realistic expectations should be. But Tiger is playing the one sport best-positioned to give us a view of where he’s at now. He won’t be coming off the bench on a minutes restriction. He won’t have to fit in with a new team or worry about where shots or snaps or at-bats are coming from. The scorecard won’t lie. Tiger is going to go out and do what he’s done as often as he possibly could have for just about his entire life: play golf in front of an audience.

A sight that familiar shouldn’t seem so unusual, but, well, here we are.

This piece originally appeared in the Fried Egg Golf newsletter. Subscribe for free and receive golf news and insight every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.