Tiger Woods rusty but fully healthy for competitive return
Former world No1 looked to be completely pain-free in Hero World Challenge pro-am
Tiger Woods plays a shot during the pro-am prior to the Hero World Challenge at Albany, Bahamas. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
There were only a handful of people there to watch. Given the remoteness – and exclusivity – of this location, there may only be a handful more when Tiger Woods takes to the 1st tee on Thursday for this, his latest reappearance from supposedly the brink of oblivion. Yet on Wednesday, albeit in the pro-am format far removed from the major championships which were once Woods’s prime domain, he supplied one of those moments which once defined his professional status.
Woods drove the par four 7th hole here at Albany, the distance of 350 yards offset by a helping wind meaning that shot was impressive rather than remarkable. From 20ft, Woods holed out for an eagle. A smattering of applause preceded a subdued Woods acknowledgement. This was hardly the 16th at Augusta National in 2005 but another, albeit small, boost both to the 41-year-old’s confidence and sense that “Tiger’s back” now has an altogether fresh, positive meaning.
Widespread fascination surrounds the next step as Woods takes to the Hero World Challenge with scorecard in hand. The generosity of the venue is illustrated by Hideki Matsuyama’s winning score of 18 under par in 2016.
Woods’s Wednesday showing suggested his insistence of no shot being physically beyond him is an accurate one. There were elements of short game rust, as is completely natural for someone who has not been able to practice – let alone regularly play – because of incessant injury troubles. General odds of 33/1 for Woods to prevail in this event, as he has done five times previously, seem fair but there is no indication of imminent embarrassment.
Nor, indeed, is Woods motivated by proving his many detractors wrong. “I’ve been written off so many times in my career,” he said. “It is what it is. People have their own opinions and they are entitled to that.
“I have had eight surgeries now. My longest period off was nine months in 2008 because I had to reconstruct my ACL. Yeah, those are times I wish I could have been playing but I wouldn’t change anything in my career, I’ve had a pretty good career.”
A medical bulletin arrived from another player in the 18-man field on Wednesday, with Jordan Spieth skipping pre-tournament media duties while citing a lost voice. Spieth had travelled directly to the Bahamas from last week’s Australian Open. “I woke up with a bit of a cold,” said Spieth in a statement, which says little for the impact of summer in Sydney.
Woods will have Justin Thomas, the USPGA champion, for first round company. Thomas once idolised Woods and has never played alongside the 14-times major champion in a competitive round. The 24-year-old admits there will be an element of the surreal to this scene. Thomas believes Woods has felt an obligation to return.
“It’s like the same reason Michael Jordan came back to play basketball,” Thomas said. “You are one of the greatest of all time to play your sport, when you have done things people can’t do or haven’t done before and have such a huge fan base. That’s what made it fun to watch.
“If Tiger hadn’t done everything he has done, we wouldn’t have the sponsors we have. If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t be playing for the amount of money we do. We have to thank him for that.
“Obviously there are a lot of other players but there’s nobody that moves the needle like him, even now. If he had 15 wins and two majors, people wouldn’t care as much but he has 79 and 14. I’m probably just as excited to watch as you all are. I just get a front row seat on Thursday.”
A Thomas smile followed. “I’m also looking forward to trying to kick his ass, to be perfectly honest.” Woods would not want it any other way. – Guardian service