Woods gets back to golf with questions about head, not body
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Tiger Woods has gone through two back surgeries since he last played a golf tournament 15 months ago. He had another back surgery that knocked him out of the Masters for the first time in 2014. He had four knee surgeries before that.
None of that matters to Ernie Els when Woods returns to competition this week.
Els is more curious about what’s going on in his head.
“The talent’s there. It’s been proven. It doesn’t go away,” Els said. “It’s what you think of yourself. It’s what you think where you are. We look at this great player, but he’s not seeing the same stuff in his ownmind. A lot of us are like that. Whenyou’ve achieved as much as he has it’s a shock to the system not to play as good as you have been. To look at other people looking at you like, ‘Hey, you’re not the same guy,’ that’s hard to take.”
Els, perhaps more than any other player, has a deep connection with Woods.
He was the player Woods sought out 20 years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes when deciding whether to turn pro. They had so many meaningful battles, and Woods almost always got the better of him. Els was runner-up to Woods seven times, the most of any player.
Els designed the Albany golf course where Woods comes back from the longest layoff of his career. He plans to be in the Bahamas, and he is as eager as anyone else to see how someone who won 79 times on the PGA Tour, including14 majors, stacks up against a generation that grew up in awe of the way Woods played golf.
The Hero World Challenge is a holiday tournament with an 18-man field and no cut. Even so, it commands as much attention as any tournament this year. Woods has been a star attraction his entire career, and the appetite is even stronger after an absence that dates to Aug. 23, 2015.
“I can’t wait to watch, either, just to see him play,” Ryder Cupcaptain Davis Love III said. “The last time I saw him play, I won. It’s hard to believe it’s been that long. I’ve seen his swing. I’ve seen him on video. He’s sent meclips, and I’ve heard the description of how he feels. I’m excited to see him play.”
“You’ve got to start somewhere,” he added. “And I want to see the start.”
Woods already has had one false start. He signed up to play the Safeway Open, only to pull out three days later because he said he felt “vulnerable.” That followed a week as assistant captain at the Ryder Cup, and cramming in practice the week before with results that made him want to wait. Albany Golf Club, Bahamas Thursday through Sunday TV: Golf Channel, Chs. 11, 4