Woods gets back to golf with ques­tions about head, not body

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Doug Fer­gu­son

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

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