December 07, 2014

Tiger ends 2014 on positive note at Hero World Challenge

Tiger Woods concluded the 2014 golf season on a positive note Sunday in the 16th Hero World Challenge at Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere, Florida.

No, he didn’t win, Woods closed with an even-par 72 and tied for last in the 18-player event won by 21-year-old Jordan Spieth, who posted a tournament-record 26-under par winning score of 262, breaking the previous mark of 266 set by Tiger (2007) and Davis Love III (2000) at Sherwood Country Club. But after rehabbing from back surgery and not competing since the PGA Championship last August, Tiger’s body and newly tweaked swing looked solid other than a rusty short game.

“It feels good to feel that rush again,” Woods said, who turns 39 on Dec. 30. “I didn’t hit the ball as well as I would like … certainly my short game was awful. But the good sign was I played four straight days and I was in no pain and I was able to hit the golf ball as hard as I wanted. I was cutting corners and carrying bunkers again.”

Tiger, the tournament host, fought back from an opening 77 and was weakened with flu-like symptoms in the second and third rounds. But his swing looked freer, he has picked up added distance off the tee and he is enthused about the 2015 season.

“It’s trying to get back to where I can play golf with my hands and feel again,” said Woods, whose 79 career victories on the PGA Tour are second only to Sam Snead with 82. “I think that’s been an asset my entire career.”

Paired with good friend Steve Stricker in the final round, Tiger parred the first six holes, then birdied the par-5 seventh, where he got up-and-down from just left of the green, chipping to three feet. After parring the eighth hole, Woods birdied the par-4 ninth, sinking a 10-foot putt and made the turn at 2-under 34.

Tiger started the back nine with three consecutive pars but triple-bogeyed the par-5 13th. Once again, he missed the green to the right, his ball settling in a tightly mown swale, and he stubbed two chip shots. Woods hit his fifth shot on the back of the green and three-putted.

At the par-4 14th, Tiger hit a poor drive into the trees on the right and was fortunate the ball stayed in bounds. He punched out to the edge of the fairway, wedged 40 feet short of the pin and made a 40-footer to save par.

Woods three-putted the par-3 15th for a bogey but bounced back with a 15-foot birdie putt at the par-4 16th. He also birdied the par-5 17th, drilling an eight-foot putt and made a nice two-putt par from just off the back of the green at the par-4 18th.

“I made some progress,” Woods said. “To be able to go all-out on some of these drives like I did this week really enforces what I’m doing is the right thing for my body.”

Tiger chunked nine chip shots during the week but said they were the result of his swing changes and didn’t sound overly concerned.

“All it is is practice,” he said. “I just gotta work.”

Woods tipped his hat to Spieth, who won the Australian Open by six strokes last week. On Sunday, he beat runner-up Henrik Stenson by 10 shots.

“He’s playing some pretty special golf,” Tiger said.

Woods had a handful of reasons to feel good Sunday. Not only could he finally eat solid food, the event raised more money for the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has helped nearly 150,000 under-served kids at seven learning centers around the country.

“What we’re doing is great, but I think we can do a lot better job at it and serve more kids not just here, but around the world,” he said.

 Next year’s tournament will move to the Albany Club in the Bahamas.

“We’re excited to have a three-year deal,” Woods said.

Tiger also had two other reasons to smile: girlfriend Lindsey Vonn came back from major knee surgery on Saturday to win a World Cup downhill race in Lake Louise, Alberta, then finished second in the super-G on Sunday. And, niece Cheyenne Woods earned her 2015 LPGA Tour card.

“It’s a pretty incredible performance,” Woods said of Vonn, whose last win was in 2013. “She’s getting better and better.”

Woods was equally proud of his niece.

“She’s worked really hard,” he said. “She’s played all over the world.”