High expectations and Tiger Woods go hand-in-hand, but at the Hero World Challenge this week, the consensus was that four rounds completed with his new-found health still intact should be considered a success.
It took all of two swings for those expectations to change. Woods found the first fairway and hit an approach to inside 15 feet. Although he missed the putt, it seemed as if Woods hadn’t been inactive in almost a year. The excitement and expectations continued to climb as the round progressed, albeit with a few setbacks.
There’s the fist pump!
— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 30, 2017
When he tallied up his score, Woods posted a 3-under par 69 that put him squarely in the mix of the 18-man field. He is three shots back of the first-round leader, Tommy Fleetwood, and six shots out of last place (Daniel Berger).
Tiger Woods stood over an 8-footer to save par on his final hole in his long-awaited comeback round on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge, and he never did see the majestic double rainbow that seemed to stretch across the entire island behind him.
Typical Tiger. Some parts of his game may be rusty. His penchant for grinding is not among them.
Woods made the putt to shoot 3-under 69 at Albany Golf Club, the same score shot by the fellow competitor with whom he played, 2016-17 PGA Tour Player of the Year Justin Thomas. Woods’ round could have been better for sure – he played four of Albany’s five par 5s rather sloppily, finishing 1 over on the fives for the day – but a perfect round was never the goal. After 10 months off and having undergone a fourth back surgery in April, this one a vertebrae fusion in his lower back, the man many consider the most talented to ever play this game just wanted to see progress. And he did. We all did.
Woods stands three shots behind leader Tommy Fleetwood (66) after one round, tied for eighth with three others. He beat seven players in the world-class field. It was a good start.
Asked to describe his day in a word, Woods bartered for three: Up and down. But later, a more meaningful word rose from a star who at times in his career has been quite insular: Thankful.
“I was in my head thanking all the people who have helped me in giving me a chance to come back and play this round again,” Woods said. “There were a lot of people that were instrumental in my life: friends, outside people I’ve never met before, obviously my surgeon. So there have been a lot of people. I was very thankful. I make sure in my head I try to thank every one of them.”
Woods, 41, who had played only three competitive rounds in all of 2017, made five birdies against a pair of bogeys. There were some impressive highlights, like the 2-iron he whistled from 265 yards into the par-5 second hole, or the sawed-off pitching wedge from 95 yards at 14 that danced around the hole before stopping 18 inches away. Birdie.
There were a couple of loose, hang-on driver swings on 15 (bogey) and 16, two horrid chips, and some quality putts to keep momentum, the first from 18 feet at the par-4 fourth to save par and deliver his first fist pump of the day.
That’s why there was joy in him on Thursday, as well as some fire, too – a club slam here, a sharp expletive there. He has won 79 times on the PGA Tour and though he came into his week at the Hero, a tournament he and his dad created 19 years ago, talking about tempering expectations, he didn’t do much tempering.
On Thursday, the speed in his swing had returned, and he didn’t back down from smashing the driver. Outside of tentative swings at 15 (into a bush, which led to an unplayable lie) and 16 (right waste area), there was little tentativeness in his action. On a couple of holes, he drove the ball some 25-30 yards past Thomas, who is a long knocker himself.
Woods hit seven of 13 fairways, 12 of 18 greens in regulation, and needed 28 putts. And he shot 69, which was a solid score in windy conditions.
Woods will go out Friday at 11:43 a.m. with Henrik Stenson.
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