December 04, 2016

Tiger finishes Hero World Challenge at 4-under

It’s a good start.

Tiger Woods concluded the 18th Hero World Challenge by finishing 15th following a 4-over 76 on Sunday at Albany in the overcast and windy Bahamas. He posted a 72-hole score of 4-under 284, 14 strokes behind 24-year-old Hideki Matsuyama of Japan, who shot 18-under and won for the fourth time in his last five starts..

“He’s one of the players we’re going to have to beat for a long time,” said Woods, who doubles as tournament host.

Proceeds from the tournament go to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has helped thousands of underserved kids enhance their education and receive college scholarships for 20 years.

Idle for more than 15 months while recovering from two back operations, Tiger didn’t seriously contend and, as expected, showed rust and eventual fatigue. He also led the field with 24 birdies, fired a bogey-free 7-under 65 in the second round and displayed flashes of the brilliance that have helped him win 79 PGA TOUR events, second only to Sam Snead with 82.

“It felt great to compete again,” said Woods, who turns 41 on Dec. 30. “I missed it. I made a lot of birdies, but I also made a lot of mistakes. I just need to balance it out.”

His biggest concerns coming into the event were how his body would hold up walking 72 holes — 90 including Wednesday’s pro-am — and how long it would take to get comfortable in competition.

“Quite frankly, it felt a little weird not to play in a cart,” Tiger said, adding that his legs were tired but his back felt fine. “[Conditioning] is not quite there but it is coming.”

Given where he was a year ago at this time, Woods is more than encouraged.

“It was just rough,” Tiger said. “You just lay in bed and you can’t move. It was pretty scary.”

A five-time winner of the Hero World Challenge, Tiger scored 73-65-70-76 in the four rounds. While his iron play was sharp and his short game strong, he’s still getting comfortable with a new TaylorMade driver.

Woods sustained six double-bogeys, mostly the result of bad tee shots.

“I made some poor decisions and missed the ball in some wrong spots,” he said.

On the other hand, Tiger played aggressively, his rhythm and tempo were good, and he buried a bunch of putts using his trusty old Scotty Cameron Newport 2 putter.

After scorching the front nine all week in a combined 10-under, Woods struggled Sunday with playing partner Louis Ooshuizen. Wearing his traditional red shirt, he left two birdie putts inches short at the par-4 first and par-5 third holes. But he needed three straight birdies at Nos. 7,, 8 and 9 to make the turn in even-par 36.

The back nine was also an adventure. Tiger bogeyed the par-4 10th, double-bogeyed the par-5 11th and bogeyed the par-3 12th. He rallied with birdies at the par-4 14th and par-5 15th, then double-bogeyed the par-4 18th for the third time, blocking his drive into a bush and was forced to take an unplayable lie.

That didn’t stop Tiger form smiling after the round.

“In the big picture, it feels good,” he said.

Woods hit eight of 13 fairways, 11 of 18 greens and finished with 29 putts. He played the five par-5s to 2-over and will look to iron that out going forward.

“I felt like I did some really positive things,” Woods said. “I just need to clean it up.”

Tiger wants to play a full schedule in 2017 and is still firming up his plans. As always, his goal will to be show up sharp for the Masters in April.

“I’ll consider a lot of things,” said Woods. “We’re going to be smart about it.”

One thing is certain: All 18 players in the field were excited about his return to the game.

“It’s hard to say he’s exceeded any expectations because it’s Tiger,” Jordan Spieth said. “But I think he’s very pleasantly surprised.”

Even president-elect Donald J. Trump tweeted about Tiger’s return to competitive golf.

“Great to have you back Tiger – Special.”