Tiger Woods didn’t contend at the Hero World Challenge, finishing well off the pace at even-par 288. But the outcome reaffirmed his plan to play once a month next season, a victory in the grand scheme.
For Woods, the Hero World Challenge wasn’t necessarily about contending or winning. He still believes he can win, as he clearly stated in his pre-tournament press conference, but the Hero marked his first start since undergoing ankle surgery in April. This week was about walking 72 holes without the type of severe pain that forced a WD midway through the third round of this year’s Masters. He was sore afterward and his face looked worn – “I feel like my game’s not that far off, but I need to get in better shape,” he said Sunday – but that’s the reality for the current version of Woods. The bone pain he felt at Augusta National has gone away, hence optimism for a return to official TOUR competition.
Woods, who turns 48 on Dec. 30, knows a full PGA TOUR schedule will never be in the cards. His oft-reconstructed body won’t allow it. But can he play an event per month, as he referenced this week? He’ll team with son Charlie at next week’s PNC Championship – Team Woods’ fourth straight appearance at the PNC, which allows carts. Then, barring setbacks, he’ll prepare for a regular schedule cadence in 2024.
“I think that if you asked me right now, I’m a little bit sore,” Woods said after signing his card Sunday at Albany, cracking a grin. “Once a month seems reasonable, and it gives me a couple weeks to recover and a week to tune up. Maybe I can get into a rhythm or something like that; that’s what the plan was going into next year, and I don’t see why that would change.”
From his opening tee shot Thursday – 326 yards, down the middle – Woods proved that speed won’t be an issue in this comeback. Albany is a mostly flat layout and Augusta National will be a different beast, but his stamina remained intact through the week. There was some rust; he admitted to a mental lapse on the par-5 15th hole Thursday after his tee shot found the thicket, advancing his second shot just 7 feet and ultimately making double bogey. But one would be ill-advised to think his mental edge won’t return with more reps.
Woods’ peers at the Hero, most of whom idolized him as kids, know to never count him out. He shares the all-time PGA TOUR wins record (82) with Sam Snead, and it could seem inconceivable to think Woods could win again at his age and with his body. Then again, much of Woods’ career arc could be described as inconceivable.
“Getting back into competitive golf is something you can’t really simulate at home, it’s so much different,” Scottie Scheffler said on Wednesday. “For him to be able to do it like he has been doing it for so many years is pretty miraculous. Tiger’s not someone that’s going to go at anything 50%, he’s going to go 100% into whatever he’s doing.”
For the week, Woods made 19 birdies, 15 bogeys and two double bogeys. He averaged 305 yards off the tee – slightly above average for the field – but hit just 58% of greens in regulation, below average. He gained strokes on the field off-the-tee, but he lost strokes in all other areas. It would stand to reason though that his play closer to the green will improve as competitive reps build – and the early returns are positive for the long game, perhaps the biggest long-term question mark before this week.
“I think the best part of the week is the way I drove it,” Woods said afterward. “I drove it on pretty much a string all week. Granted, these fairways are big. I felt like I had my ball speed up, which was nice, and I was hitting the middle of the face the entire week, which is nice. So it’s not like I have to go and try and find something the next few weeks or something going into next year; what I’ve been working on is right there and maybe just tighten up a little bit.”
When Woods won the 2008 U.S. Open on essentially one leg, it foreshadowed the injury reports that would in ways define the second stanza of his career, with several competitive leaves due to back, knee and elbow ailments – and most recently the ankle. He knows that areas of weakness require compensation in other areas. Six years ago, he admitted doubts as to whether he’d play competitive golf again. That was well before the 2021 car accident where he suffered multiple fractures in his right leg. Yet he’s still, remarkably, here.
“Arguably this is the last roll of the dice of his career,” analyst Paul McGinley said Sunday on the Hero World Challenge broadcast.
It’s a roll nonetheless, which is all he – and the golf world – could ask for.
Source : PGA Tour