December 03, 2017

Tiger shoots 4-under, finishes tied for ninth in Hero World Challenge

ALBANY, Bahamas – The Big Cat is back.

Uncertain about his professional golf future 10 months ago after undergoing his fourth back surgery, Tiger Woods proved he still has game this week by tying for ninth at the 19th Hero World Challenge. He broke par three times, capped by a 4-under 68 on Sunday, hit his driver long and straight, and walked off the 18th green at Albany pain-free.

“I knew I was going to be able to play all four rounds, that wasn’t going to be an issue,” said Woods, who turns 42 on Dec. 30. “The issue was scoring. I drove it pretty well and made some good putts. Overall, I’m pretty pleased.”

Woods posted scores of 69-68-75-68 to finish at 8-under 280. Rickie Fowler fired a course and tournament record 11-under 61 Sunday to overtake Charley Hoffman and capture the title. Fowler wound up at 18-under 270, while Hoffman (72) took second at 14-under 274.

Woods wore a smile all week and was thrilled to return to an arena he has missed so much. Making his first start in 301 days and competing for only the fourth time in three years, he showcased the power, shot-making skills and touch that have helped him accumulate 79 PGA Tour victories and 14 major championships.

Admittedly nervous on the first tee Thursday, Woods piped his driver down the left side of the fairway and showed no signs of previous injuries. He only sprayed a few tee shots, launched towering 3-woods and 2-irons, scrambled for clutch pars and rolled in two lengthy eagle putts.

His performance captivated the curious golf world and was unanimously praised by his fellow competitors. Tennis great and friend Rafael Nadal, a 16-time Grand Slam singles champion, was in his gallery Sunday.

After struggling in the wind Saturday, Woods regained his rhythm early on Sunday. Paired with Justin Thomas and attired in his traditional red shirt and black pants, he poured in a 10-foot birdie putt at the third hole, a 12-footer at the fifth, then drove the green at the 336-yard par-4 seventh. Woods curled in a 25-foot left-to-right eagle putt, dropping to his knees, then raised his arms skyward.

“It broke about 2½ feet,” he said.

Woods got up and down for birdie from the front right bunker at the par-5 ninth to make the turn in 5-under 31 for the second time during the tournament.

Despite a good drive, he stumbled with a double-bogey at the par-4 10th, but regrouped quickly with birdies at 11, 14 and 15. Woods missed the green at the par-3 17th but hit a terrific bunker shot within six feet of the cup and just missed his par putt. He hit two quality shots at the tough par-4 18th that left him 20 feet above the hole, but ran his birdie bid four feet by and couldn’t convert.

The closing bogeys didn’t dampen his enthusiasm after a fun, exciting and promising week. On Sunday, he hit 11 of 13 fairways, 13 of 18 greens and used 28 putts.

“A bright future,” said Woods, whose children Sam (10) and Charlie (8) were on hand.

Speaking of that, he did not reveal when he will play next.

“I am going to sit down with my team and figure out the best way to build my schedule,” Woods said. “Play enough but don’t play too much. We’ll figure it out.”

Woods played golf for nine straight days before Thursday’s first round to test his endurance. He didn’t miss a step at Albany.

Asked if he thought Woods could win again on the PGA Tour, Patrick Reed answered quickly.

“No doubt about it,” he said. “It’s awesome to see him back playing well.”