Reflecting on Tiger’s return

Tiger Woods was content with how his return to golf at the Hero World Challenge played out, and so should everyone else be… that’s everyone who wants to see him win again, of course.

Woods last played competitive golf at the Wyndham Championship in August of 2015.

Since then multiple back surgeries have kept him on the sidelines.

Many thought he would never feature again on the PGA Tour. Woods, himself, at one point, admitted as much.

However, all that speculation was ended on Thursday at Albany, New Providence as Woods teed off at his own Hero World Challenge.

In the 72 holes that followed, he carded 24 birdies, eight bogeys and six double-bogeys.

Rounds of 73, 65, 70 and 76 got him to four-under-par for the week, 14 shots behind eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama.

Woods placed 15th in the 18-man field.

Reflecting on his return, Woods cut an emotional figure as he explained he was simply happy to be out on the course again.

“Getting back to this point is beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime,” the 14-time major champion started.

“The pain issues that I had, it was rough. To battle back, to battle through it, to have the friends I’ve had who have supported me, helped me through it. Quite frankly there were some pretty dire times where I just couldn’t move.

“Big picture? It feels good. It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world. I missed it. I love it.”

Woods’ upbeat tone after finishing in the bottom quartile of a tournament might surprise you considering he is the man who has said time and time again that victory is the only yardstick he will ever use to measure success.

However, all things considered, Woods’ week really did contain plenty to be positive about.

He struck the ball solidly off the tee. While his remodelled swing appears to be less arduous on his body, he still out-drove the likes of Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed on a number of holes. The distance is still is there.

His iron-play was impressive too. In windy conditions, he was comfortable shaping the ball both ways and had control of the trajectory of his shots.

The short stuff was respectable without being spectacular. The pitching was accurate and the distance control was on point.

However, the chipping was inconsistent at times. There was a moment of brilliance though on Saturday as Woods holed-out from a sand-trap in glorious fashion. He still has that element of showbiz about him.

Woods has always been one of the best putters in the sport. Through all his troubles, that part of his game has always remained tidy. This week it was no different as he drained a number of birdie and par-saving putts. The stroke was as smooth as ever.

How then did he finish 14 shots off the pace if almost every aspect of his game was in relative order?

The answer to that is layered. But I’ll spare a few paragraphs to explain the gist of it.

Woods has been practising at the range and playing rounds in a cart. He explained on Sunday that his legs were not quite used to walking 72 holes in four days. Some of his lapses in concentration can be put down to his level of golfing fitness.

No amount of ranging can adequately prepare you for competition golf in an environment that is as fierce as the PGA Tour. Woods revealed that understanding his distances while playing with adrenaline was something that would take time to get used to.

The dynamics of the new swing seem sound. So much so that the entire broadcasting team of the Golf Channel gave it a massive tick. But being able to repeat a swing over and over in pressure-filled environments will time take too, even if the swing is a compact one. Bad swings from Woods were outnumbered by good swings this week. But there were still too many bad ones.

And when Woods did miss, they were bad misses. Not so much by the level of deviation but rather by the unfavourable spots he was leaving the ball in. The coupling of poor swings with poor decisions is never part of a winning formula on the courses that PGA Tour events are played on.

For instance, with water flanking the left-hand side of the 18th hole, Woods never seemed comfortable all week but continued to play it aggressively and attack the flag. He double-bogeyed 18 on three out of the four times that he played it. The decision making will improve.

You can expect to see Woods again early in 2017. His schedule has not been confirmed just yet but the priorities will no doubt be the majors as he will surely play fewer events than what he has done in previous seasons to maintain his health.

Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson are not the players that stand between Woods and a 15th major. It’s Tiger that needs to stay clear of Tiger.

If Woods can stay patient and not expect himself to practice as much as he once did and lift as heavy weights as he once did and hit the ball as long as he once did and as straight as he once did. And if he can avoid expecting himself to win by the margins that he once did, then he surely still has some majors in him.

But if he chases a level of dominance that saw him almost transcend the sport in his early years, then he could well be done.

Woods needs to accept that there are many ways to skin a cat. He cannot do it the way he once did, but, on last week’s evidence, he certainly can still do it.

Zac Elkin