World wants to know if Tiger’s ready to roar in re­turn

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

TIGER WOODS, 14 months re­moved from his last com­pet­i­tive out­ing, near­ing his 41st birth­day and in re­cov­ery from mul­ti­ple back surg­eries, still ig­nites in­ter­est like no other golfer.

The 14-time ma­jor cham­pion will tee it up on Thurs­day at the Sil­ver­ado Re­sort in Napa, Cal­i­for­nia, in his first com­pet­i­tive start since a 10th-place fin­ish at the Wyn­d­ham Cham­pi­onship on Au­gust 23 of 2015.

The nor­mally low-key Safe­way Open, start of the USPGA Tour’s 2016-17 sea­son in Cal­i­for­nia’s Wine Coun­try north of San Fran­cisco, is sud­denly the cen­tre of the golf­ing world.

“I’m sort of glad I’m not there that week,” North­ern Ire­land’s Rory McIl­roy said when Woods an­nounced the pro­jected timetable for his re­turn in Septem­ber. “It’s go­ing to be a bit of a cir­cus.”

Com­pared to 45 me­dia out­lets cre­den­tialed in 2015, 106 are cre­den­tialed for this year, with or­gan­is­ers dou­bling the phys­i­cal size of their me­dia cen­tre.

A sim­i­lar jump in ticket sales was ex­pected, with some re­ports sug­gest­ing fans could be treated to a su­per­star pair­ing of Woods and five­time ma­jor win­ner Phil Mick­el­son in the open­ing rounds.

Not that Woods needs any help to draw a spot­light, and ram­pant spec­u­la­tion on just where his game might be af­ter more than a year of painstak­ing re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion.

“We’ve played nine holes to­gether. He’s pound­ing it a mile and flush­ing ev­ery­thing ... his tra­jec­tory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago,” Swe­den’s Jes­per Parnevik told Golf Digest last week.

“Come­backs are never a sure thing, but some­thing tells me his might be spec­tac­u­lar.”

Woods, who will turn 41 on De­cem­ber 30, might set­tle for steady, with no set­backs.

His agent slammed re­ports in Fe­bru­ary that Woods’s re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion wasn’t go­ing well, and that his con­di­tion had de­te­ri­o­rated.

In May, pro­mot­ing the Na­tional tour­na­ment he hosts, Woods in­sisted he was mak­ing progress – but plunked three shots in the wa­ter try­ing to reach the green of Con­gres­sional’s par-three 10th.

Woods said then that he’d had to adapt to a new re­al­ity, his body no longer able to sup­port eight or 10 hours of prac­tice a day, or daily runs of five or six miles.

Still, he said in June: “I can play with these guys. I know I still can, I just need to get healthy enough where I can do it on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.”

On Thurs­day, Woods and the rest of the world will be­gin to find out if he has achieved that level of fit­ness.

Al­though he’s been side­lined be­fore by var­i­ous an­kle, knee and leg in­juries, not to men­tion the no­to­ri­ous col­lapse of his mar­riage amid rev­e­la­tions of his in­fi­delity – this 14month hia­tus is the long­est of Woods’s ca­reer.

He hasn’t won since the 2013 WGC Bridge­stone In­vi­ta­tional, the 79th PGA Tour ti­tle of his ca­reer leav­ing him three shy of the record held by Sam Snead.

His most re­cent ma­jor ti­tle came on one of those bum knees at the 2008 US Open at Tor­rey Pines, and since then he’s looked less and less likely to break the record of 18 ma­jors won by Jack Nick­laus.

The man who reigned at No. 1 for 683 weeks isn’t even in the top 700 now. Doesn’t mat­ter, says McIl­roy. “He brings an aura and an at­mos­phere to a tour­na­ment that no one else in golf can bring,” said McIl­roy, who like ev­ery­one else is ea­ger to see what Woods will pro­duce next.

“It’s dif­fer­ent try­ing to get back from an in­jury at 40 years old than it is when you’re in your 20s or early 30s,” McIl­roy said. “I think that’s why it’s been over a year since we have seen him on a golf course.

“It would be great to see him give it one last shot ... hope­fully he can get back on the course and stay healthy for a pro­longed pe­riod of time and give it one last go.” – AFP

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