Tiger flirts with return to old form
Not only did Tiger Woods return to golf on Thursday, he returned to being Tiger. Just not for long. Hardly looking like a player who had not competed in 466 days, Woods ran off three straight birdies with a variety of shots and was tied for the lead in the Hero World Challenge as he approached the turn. Then everything changed. Three shots in the bushes, one shot in the water and a few fits of anger sent him toward the bottom of the pack.
A pair of double bogeys over the final three holes ruined an otherwise impressive return, as Woods shot 40 on the back nine at Albany Golf Club and had to settle for a 1-over 73.
He was in 17 th place in the 18-man field. Only Justin Rose had a higher score.
Even so, Woods has reason to be encouraged.
After taking off 16 months to recover from two back surgeries, he felt no pain. His misses were not big, just costly. And he was playing again.
“It could have been something really good,” Woods said.
“I got off to a nice, solid start and made a few mistakes there. I didn’t play the par 5s very well in the middle part of the round and consequently got it going the wrong way. But all in all, I feel pretty good. I’m looking forward to three more days.”
He was nine shots behind J.B. Holmes, who opened with an 8-under 64 and had a oneshot lead over Hideki Matsuyama, with US Open champion Dustin Johnson at 66.
Curiosity was greater than expectations for Woods, who was coming off the longest hiatus of his golfing life.
Plagued by back problems since 2013 when he was No 1 in the world, he finally shut it down after tying for 10th in the Wyndham Championship on Aug 23, 2015, then went through two back surgeries.
He was in so much pain last year that there were times he wondered if he had played his last tournament.
With high anticipation, he tugged his opening tee shot into the rough on the left edge of a bunker then gouged out to 15 feet for par.
Just like that, it all started to feel as though he had never been away.
“By the time I hit my tee shot on the second hole, I had already gotten into the flow of the round,” Woods said.
“That’s something that for me, when I’ve taken layoffs and taken breaks, it’s a question of how quickly can I find the feel of the round? To not play in 15, 16 months and get it on the second hole is nice.”
He also knew that with only a stiff tropical wind behind him on three of the par 5s, scores would be low.
For a short time, Woods seemed up to the task. He hit a 5-iron from 231 yards just over the green and passed his first test, a 30-yard pitch-andrun and that checked slightly and rolled out to a few feet from the hole for a birdie .
He faced a more difficult pitch up the slope on the next hole and hit a chunk-and-run to three feet.
His confidence kept building — a flop shot from 40 yards to five feet for birdie on the par-5 sixth, a wedge to five feet for birdie on the seventh and a 6-iron he struck so well on the par-3 eighth that he was asking for perfection. “One yard! One yard!” he said as the ball was in the air, and then settled two feet away.
At that point he was tied with Holmes.
But Tiger flubbed a pitch on the par-5 ninth and made bogey. Two holes later, he flared an iron from the sandy waste area into a bush and had to take a penalty stroke, making another bogey on a par 5.
Woods was still hanging around in the middle of the pack when he hit a 7-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 15th and twoputted for birdie. Then it all fell apart. From the middle of the 16th fairway, he pulled his approach and dropped the club as the ball sailed into a bush. He had to play that backward to the fairway, pitched a wedge some 30 feet past the pin and made double bogey.
Then on the 18th, he pulled his driver and immediately slammed the club into the turf as he watched for the splash. His pitch hit the pin and he missed from 20 feet for another bogey.
“Just made some really silly mistakes,” Woods said. “But I haven’t played in a while. Unfortunately, I made those mistakes. I can clean that up. We’ve got three more days. Wind is supposed to pump on the weekend, and I’ ll be playing a little bit better.”
It could have been something really good. I got off to a nice, solid start and made a few mistakes there.” Tiger Woods, after his first-round play
Tiger Woods impressed a world-class field after a 16-month layoff in Thursday’s opening round of the Hero World Challenge, despite double bogeys on two of the last three holes en route to a 1-over 73.
“After that long break and not being able to play in a tournament, to come out like he did was pretty good,” said J.B. Holmes, who fired a 64 to grab the first-round lead.
“It’s great to have him back. He has been gone a while and he definitely brings a lot more to our sport. Nice to see him.”
Eighth-ranked Patrick Reed, who shot 72, played alongside Woods and liked what he saw from the 14-time major champion.
“Unfortunately it wasn’t quite the way we both wanted to play, but it was awesome to get him back out here and play golf with him,” Reed said.
“The first eight holes he played really well. I was like, ‘Wow.’ He seemed like he had complete control of what he was trying to do with the ball.
“There were just a couple loose swings here and there. He needs to tighten some things up, too, but it’s awesome to have him back. It’s good to see him, for the most part, have pretty good control.”
Woods said more rounds will help eliminate the errors.
“I just need to keep playing,” he said. “My feels need to keep coming back, seeing the shots, feeling the shots, hitting my numbers and getting all that.”
“I thought his swing looked good,” Reed said.
“When he hit it well, it was really good, but when he mishit it, they weren’t very good misses.
“At the end of the day, to take off as much time as he did and come back and be in his first competitive round and have the kind of spurts that he had throughout the round, it was good to see.”
Tiger Woods adjusts his cap on the 10th green during Thursday’s opening round of the Hero World Challenge in Nassau, Bahamas. After a strong start, Woods carded a 73 in his first competitive tournament in 16 months.