It’s a soft opening for Tiger Woods’ return to Tour, and that’s a smart move

Tiger Woods says he will be back on the PGA Tour, or hopes to be back, five weeks from today.

That’s not just restarting the clock on his career. It’s winding it awful fast.

SHEBOYGAN, WI - AUGUST 13:  Tiger Woods of the United States lines up a putt on the 13th hole during the first round of the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits on August 13, 2015 in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

SHEBOYGAN, WI – AUGUST 13: Tiger Woods lines up a putt during the 2015 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, where he missed the cut at his third consecutive major.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Of course we’ll all be fascinated to watch him play in the Safeway Open in Napa, Calif., Oct. 13-16. That’s the tournament they used to call the Frys.com Open. You know, the tournament won in recent years by guys like Emiliano Grillo and Bae Sang-Moon and Jonas Blixt and Bryce Molder. Didn’t know any of that? Doesn’t matter.

If Tiger is back, any tournament he plays is big news, even in the middle of football season, even when nobody can quite figure out how it is that next year’s PGA Tour schedule actually begins this year.

This is a smart move for Tiger, who doesn’t need to schedule his return for the high-impact environment of a major or any other full-field monster event. That’s what happened in 2009, when he came back from a long knee and leg rehab to win one match at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship, and what happened again in 2010, when he tied for fourth at the Masters in his first tournament following that messy marital meltdown.

The Safeway event will be more of a soft opening. Phil Mickelson is entered, which provides credibility, but most of the other big stars are taking time off to recuperate from a busy summer that included the bonus of the Rio Olympics.

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After that, Tiger says, he hopes to play in a European Tour event in Turkey and his foundation’s own small-field event in the Bahamas, the Hero World Challenge. The whole quick reboot is over by mid-December, which provides time to schedule out all the good stuff in 2017, and we’re hoping that includes the Honda Classic.

“Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery,” Tiger wrote on his website Wednesday. “My hope is to have my game ready to go.”

Ready to win is the next step. Ready to win majors remains a massive leap.

Since Tiger won his last major, the 2008 U.S. Open, the PGA Tour has pretty much rebuilt itself on a new star system. These are players who have gotten comfortable collecting the trophies he used to own, and they’ve gotten used to the idea that it will remain so.

Here are the names of 21 players who have won their first major titles in the period since Tiger won his 14th.

Rory McIlroy (4 majors)

Jordan Spieth (2 majors)

Bubba Watson (2 majors)

Martin Kaymer (2 majors)

Charl Schwartzel

Adam Scott

Danny Willett

Lucas Glover

Graeme McDowell

Webb Simpson

Justin Rose

Dustin Johnson

Stewart Cink

Louis Oosthuizen

Darren Clarke

Henrik Stenson

Y.E. Yang

Keegan Bradley

Jason Dufner

Jason Day

Jimmy Walker

Take note that the list does not include veterans like Mickelson and Ernie Els and Angel Cabrera, who won majors before 2008 and have won majors since.

Tiger is coming back from a couple of back surgeries, and he’s coming back to a new world, one not of his making anymore.

Best to keep the expectations low.

Can’t do anything about the TV ratings, though. They’ll be high no matter what he does, which leads to reactions like this one from Jack Nicklaus, whose 18 major titles remain Tiger’s eternal quest.

“It’s great to see you back and in good health,” Jack tweeted in response to Tiger’s scheduling announcement. “You’ve done so much for the game and it’s better with you playing. Good luck!”