December 04, 2014

Tiger rusty in return at Hero World Challenge

Even the familiarity of his former home course wasn’t enough to keep away the rust for Tiger Woods on Thursday in the first round of the $3.5 million Hero World Challenge at Isleworth Golf & Country Club in Windermere, Fla.

Teeing it up in competition for the first time since August’s PGA Championship, Woods struggled to a 5-over-par 77 and was in last place after Round 1 of the 18-player, no-cut tournament he hosts. Jordan Spieth earned the first-round lead with a 66.

Although Tiger has a practice area at his Jupiter, Fla. home, his short game was poor, with Woods chunking four chip shots.

“It was weird,” he said afterward. “I didn’t feel like I hit the ball that bad. My short game was awful, and I didn’t make anything.”

After four months away from the game to rehab from back surgery and re-work his golf swing, Tiger figured some parts of his game might not be sharp. However, he didn’t expect to have so much difficulty around the grainy, tightly-mowed greens.

“It certainly is surprising that I could hit chips that poorly,” Woods said. “Just flubbed them.”

Standing taller at address, Tiger displayed faster club-head speed and more distance off the tee. But he wasn’t able to parlay that into good scoring, his lone birdie of the day coming at the par-4 12th hole, where he lipped out his second shot with a wedge, resulting in a tap-in.

For the day, Woods hit eight of 14 fairways and 11 of 18 greens in regulation.

Paired with Jason Day, Tiger bogeyed the first two holes, then steadied with four consecutive pars. He bogeyed the par-5 seventh, double-bogeyed the par-4 eighth and parred the par-4 ninth to make the turn in 5-over 41.

Woods looked better on the back nine. He made seven pars, one birdie and one bogey, the latter the result of a poor break.

At the par-5 13th, Tiger crushed a drive down the middle of the fairway and hit six-iron for his second shot. The ball landed about 10 feet below the hole on the table-top green and could have kicked to within four or five feet of the cup for a great eagle opportunity. Instead, it rolled backward off the putting surface and down a slope into a closely-mown chipping area, where he stubbed two chips and eventually got up-and-down for a bogey.

A five-time winner of the event, Woods finished 2-over on the course’s par-5 holes.

Tiger had back surgery to relieve a pinched nerve on March 31. While he returned to play in several events, Woods played poorly and his last competitive round was Aug. 8 in the second round of the PGA Championship. He began hitting balls in October and recently hired Chris Como as a swing consultant.

 On the positive side, Tiger was able to swing freely with his driver and was pain-free afterward.

“I haven’t said that in a long time,” he said. “That was exciting to be able to step up there and hit the drives I hit, especially on the back nine. I’m launching it and feel nothing.”