Tiger Woods leaves holiday island with positive vibes
Fowler wins Hero World Challenge as Woods ticks boxes on his return in the Bahamas
Tiger Woods during the final round of the Hero World Challenge at Albany, Bahamas. Photograph: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
Although Rickie Fowler stole the show with a final round master class to claim the Hero World Challenge title in the Bahamas, tournament host Tiger Woods too left the holiday island with positive vibes on his comeback and talked of “a bright future” after being competitive and pain-free on his return to tournament play following his travails with back injuries.
Fowler, the world number nine, opened with seven straight birdies - including holing out from a bunker on the fifth - that enabled him to scoop the $1 million winner’s payday in the limited field tournament.
A sensational final round of 61 for a total of 18-under-par 270 saw Fowler leapfrog up the leaderboard, comfortably overcoming a seven stroke starting deficit on 54-hole leader Charley Hoffman. Fowler’s wizardry with putter in hand saw him finish four strokes clear of runner-up Hoffman, who struggled to a 72, with Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Spieth sharing third place.
Woods’s quest for a fairytale return to competition after almost 10 months on the sidelines, during which he underwent spinal fusion surgery on his injured back, was effectively scuppered by a 75 in Saturday’s third round but the 14-times Major champion responded with a 68 for eight-under-par 280 that gave him a tied-ninth place finish and, finally, optimism going into a new season.
Indeed Woods, who turns 42 later this month, intends to sit down with his backroom team to map out a schedule for next year that will enable to contend in the Majors. He last played in a Major championship at the 2015 US PGA Championship, with his back injuries - culminating in that fourth surgical procedure last April - limiting his appearances on tour. His last competitive outing prior to playing in the Hero World Challenge was in the Dubai Desert Classic in February, when he withdrew after the first round.
“When I was struggling with my back the world seemed very small, just day to day stuff was very difficult for me to do. I have had some tough times over the years with my back, to finally come on the good side back out and play is pretty cool . . . we’re going to sit down, try to figure out what’s the best way to build my schedule for the major championships, what my training cycles are going to be. Play enough but don’t play too much. I don’t know what courses I’ll be playing, so sit down with the whole team and figure it out,” said Woods adding:
“I knew I was going to be able to play all four rounds, that wasn’t going to be an issue. I played a lot at home. The issues were, ‘how was my scoring going to be?, how was my feel? How am I going to get used to the adrenaline in my system for the first time in a while?’ That took a little bit of time. I was still scratchy with my irons, drove it pretty good as well, made some good putts. Overall I’m very pleased, hit some good shots and (there is ) a bright future and no pain.”
Woods provided some snapshots of his old self - in a final round that featured an eagle, six birdies, a double bogey and two bogeys - but it was Fowler, whose only win of the season had come in the Honda Classic in February, who produced the real star quality of the final round.
Fowler took only 28 strokes to the turn and was on target to shoot a sub-60 round only to lose the momentum on the homeward run as he chased birdies in that bid to break the magical barrier. Fowler reached 10-under on this round through 13 holes and had images of a 59 or even better flashing into his mind but cooled down coming down the stretch and only managed one further birdie - on the 15th - before finishing with a run of successive pars as the birdies dried up.
“I was just trying to stay as calm as possible, staying the moment and not to get ahead of myself . . . I knew I needed to get off to a quick start to show Charley I was there. We took care of that and kept it rolling from there,” said Fowler.