Tiger back in groove to shoot the breeze

Weekend Herald - - Motoring -

Doug Fer­gu­son

Tiger Woods looked a lot bet­ter in his re­turn to golf than he did when he left.

Play­ing for the first time since his fourth back surgery, Woods re­turned from a 10- month lay­off with a 3- un­der

69 on a breezy day in the Ba­hamas that left him three shots be­hind Tommy Fleet­wood af­ter the open­ing round of the Hero World Chal­lenge.

“For me, I thought I did great,” Woods said with a smile.

And in a sign that he was ready to get back into the mix, he was far from sat­is­fied.

Un­like a year ago, when Woods ended a 15- month hia­tus from his ail­ing back, he didn’t show any fa­tigue at the end of his round or make any big num­bers. His only re­gret was play­ing the par 5s at Al­bany Golf Club in 1- over par with t wo bo­geys that stalled his mo­men­tum.

Com­ing off a 25- foot birdie putt on the par- 3 eighth, Woods hit a 3- wood that rolled up on the green and then off again, down a slope. It took him four shots from there, start­ing with a chip that didn’t reach the green and his first ex­ple­tive loud enough for tele­vi­sion to pick up.

Af­ter his best shot of the day — a pitch­ing wedge he hit low from 95 yards that set­tled a foot be­hind the hole for birdie on No 14 — he sent a drive well to the right into the na­tive dunes. Woods had to take a penalty drop to get back in play and wound up mak­ing bogey.

But it was solid enough that Woods was far more in­ter­ested in the leader­board than the fact he felt strong phys­i­cally.

“It was not only nice to get the first round out of the way, but also I’m only three shots out of the lead,” he said. “So to be able to put my­self there af­ter not play­ing for 10 months or so, it was nice to feel the adren­a­line out there.”

He was tied for eighth in the

18- man field of this hol­i­day ex­hi­bi­tion that awards world rank­ing points but does not count as of­fi­cial on any tour. Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar were at 67, while Dustin John­son, Jor­dan Spi­eth, Justin Rose and Kevin Chap­pell were at 68.

The buzz was back. John­son no­ticed it when he was on the prac­tice range and no­ticed a crowd around the putting green.

“Tiger must be there,” John­son said. “Be­cause there’s 40 peo­ple in­stead of four.”

The Golf Chan­nel added an hour of cov­er­age, and Twit­ter came alive with peo­ple cu­ri­ous about the lat­est re­turn. That in­cluded Steph Curry, the Golden State War­riors’ two- time MVP who played a Web. com Tour event in Au­gust. “The wait is over. The wait is over,” he tweeted .

Swim star Michael Phelps said he was “pumped to be watch­ing” Woods on TV again.

This event doesn’t draw big crowds, but most of them were with Woods to see how he would fare in this lat­est come­back, this one from fu­sion surgery on his lower back on April 20. Given it was his fourth surgery in three years, cou­pled with a DUI ar­rest in the ( north­ern) sum­mer that ex­posed the strug­gles Woods was hav­ing with pain medicine, a day like this seemed a long way off.

Woods said he ap­pre­ci­ated the mo­ment.

“I was in my head thank­ing all the peo­ple who have helped me in giv­ing me a chance to come back and play this round again,” he said. “There were a lot of peo­ple who were in­stru­men­tal in my life — friends, out­side peo­ple I’ve never met be­fore, ob­vi­ously my sur­geon. I was very thank­ful.”

And he was as com­pet­i­tive as al­ways.

Woods de­liv­ered his first fist pump on par- 4 fourth hole when he scooped a chip that didn’t reach the green, and then holed an 18- foot par putt.

While the field is short, the com­pe­ti­tion is strong with eight of the top in the world at Al­bany. Woods re­alises they have spent the last cou­ple of years play­ing at a high level that al­lows them to over­come a few mis­takes.

PGA cham­pion Justin Thomas, who also opened with a 69 in the same pair­ing with Woods, is among those who have played with him in re­cent weeks in Florida.

“It was what I saw when we played at home,” Thomas said. “Ob­vi­ously, tak­ing this much time off from com­pe­ti­tion is hard. I felt rusty start­ing af­ter a month- and- a- half, so I can’t imag­ine what it felt like for him. But he played well.” AP

Pic­ture / AP

Tiger Woods on the par- 4 fourth hole when he scooped a chip that didn’t reach the green, and then holed an 18- foot par putt.

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