Op­ti­mistic view

Tiger Woods flashes his old form in Nassau

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE -

The re­turn of Tiger Woods was more about the big pic­ture than any of his big num­bers.

And it started with the sight of his red shirt on Sun­day.

Woods grum­bled about three more dou­ble bo­geys in the fi­nal round of the Hero World Chal­lenge, but con­sid­er­ing how badly he’s felt in the 16 months since he last played, he still was able to keep it in per­spec­tive.

“It feels good to be back out here play­ing again, com­pet­ing and try­ing to beat the best play­ers in the world,” Woods said. “I missed it. I love it.”

He even loved some of his golf at Albany.

Woods made 24 birdies — the most of any­one in the tour­na­ment.

He also had six dou­ble bo­geys, three of them in the fi­nal round. The last one on the fi­nal hole, his third of the week on the 18th, gave him a 4-over 76. It was the high­est score of the tour­na­ment, and he fin­ished 15th in the 17-man field.

The other play­ers were not about to mea­sure him by his score — not yet, any­way.

“The whole world is watch­ing a cou­ple of rounds of golf,” said Bri­tish Open cham­pion Hen­rik Sten­son, who fin­ished sec­ond to Hideki Mat­suyama.

“It’s great to see him back and healthy and play­ing. I want to see him up in con­tention and try to beat him when it mat­ters the most.

“Give him three or four tour­na­ments, maybe six tour­na­ments, maybe around the Mas­ters,” Sten­son said. “It’s easy to over­an­a­lyze a very lim­ited amount of golf.”

Rarely has a De­cem­ber event at­tracted this much cu­rios­ity.

Woods, the dom­i­nant player of his generation, had gone 466 days since his pre­vi­ous tour­na­ment be­cause of two back surg­eries. The re­cov­ery at times made it dif­fi­cult for him to walk and led him to won­der if he would ever play again.

“Get­ting back to this point is be­yond any­thing that I’ve ever ex­pe­ri­enced in my life­time,” said Woods, who turns 41 at the end of the month.

“The pain is­sues that I had, it was rough. Quite frankly, there were some pretty dire times when I just couldn’t move.”

Woods showed no stress in his swing or in walk­ing five straight rounds, start­ing with the pro-am.

He had plenty of length, at times go­ing af­ter his driver with a lit­tle more pop to clear a bunker. He holed a few long putts. He missed a few short ones. At times, it looked like he had never been away for that long. And at times it did.

“It’s kind of new to me again, the feel of play­ing, the feel of adren­a­line in my sys­tem, hit­ting shots,” Woods said.

One day af­ter he briefly pulled within two shots of the lead, it was clear early on Sun­day that the fi­nal round would be a strug­gle.

Woods was scram­bling for pars in­stead of being in a po­si­tion to at­tack pins. He twice made dou­ble bo­gey on a par 5, start­ing at No 6 when he blast- ed out of the sandy area to the back side of a dou­ble green.

Still, he ral­lied with three straight birdies to play the front nine in even par.

He was never go­ing to win the tour­na­ment — Mat­suyama was too far ahead — but it was a chance to post a de­cent num­ber and take more pos­i­tives into what fig­ures to be a two-month off­sea­son.

In­stead, Woods added two more dou­ble bo­geys and shot 40 on the back nine.

He made his third dou­ble bo­gey of the week on the 18th with­out even go­ing into the wa­ter.

His tee shot landed in thick bush, and he had to take a penalty drop to take it out. His drop in the sandy waste area set­tled right in front of the nub of another bush.

He got that back to the fair­way, went just over the green and took two putts for his 6.

“What he did here showed that he’s cer­tainly up for the task and his game is there. He’s ready to go,” Jor­dan Spieth said.

“With Tiger, ev­ery time we set expectations, he ex­ceeds them.”

Woods at least starts his climb from No 898 in the world, the product of not play­ing since Aug. 23, 2015.

He said he wants to play a full schedule in 2017 — that typ­i­cally means no more than about 20 events.

“I need to play more tour­na­ments,” Woods said.

“I thought I made some good, pos­i­tive things hap­pen this week. Made a lot of birdies, also made a lot of mis­takes. That’s some­thing I know I can clean up.”

His cad­die, Joe LaCava, of­fered the best per­spec­tive.

“I wasn’t go­ing to com­pare him to the rest of the field. They’ve been play­ing all year and they’ve been play­ing great,” LaCava said.

“Hon­estly, my goal was to get him through five rounds on his feet. That was big.”

It’s kind of new to me again, the feel of play­ing, the feel of adren­a­line in my sys­tem, hit­ting shots.” Tiger Woods, on his re­turn af­ter more than 15 months

LYNNE SLADKY / AP

Tiger Woods tracks his shot from the 14th fair­way dur­ing Sun­day’s fi­nal round of the Hero World Chal­lenge in Nassau, Bahamas.

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