All the latest on Tiger Wood's return to golf at the Hero World Challenge this week...
After posting his latest video and talking to reporters about playing golf pain free for the first time in years, we take a look at Tiger Woods' long awaited return at the Hero World Challenge this week.
"The fact that I don't have any pain in my lower back compared to what I was living with for years, it's just remarkable," Woods said after his first practice round at Albany golf course on Sunday, which is the site of this week's reduced field event.
"It's been a struggle for years. To finally come out on the good side of it, it's exciting. I am stiffer, I'm fused. But I don't have the pain and if I don't have the pain, life is so much better."
His comments come a couple of days after Brad Faxon told Golfweek that Tiger had been hitting it past Dustin Johnson half the time while they played in a fourball with President Trump last week - which follows Jason Day's positive comments and Rickie Fowler's admission Woods was hitting it way past him in practice.
Faxon wrote: "Tiger looked great to me. He was happy and, more than anything, he's finally pain-free. The issues he had with the back the last couple of comebacks seem to be gone. He looked effortless, he looked free, he had some power.
"I was impressed with how far he hit the ball. Probably on the 10 holes that they were both hitting driver, Tiger hit it past Dustin half the time and Dustin hit it past Tiger half the time. He looked great. I think more than anything, he looked at ease. He was not concerned about swinging hard and going at it with driver. The ball flight, the sound off the club, all of it was right there."
Everything sounds positive, and acccording to projections, Woods could even jump to around 135 in the World rankings (from 1199) if he were to win the limited field event this week. But what can we actually expect from the 14-time major champion when he tees up for the first time since February, and is he really hitting it further than Dustin Johnson?
While it's exciting to see him back competing after being plagued by another long injury-invoked period of absence, I'd keep the expectations curbed until we see him tee it up on Thursday. There's been a lot of videos of his swing, and recently a lot of chatter about how far he's hitting it, but it's a big step from playing practice rounds after your fourth back surgery to competing at the top of the game.
Watch the first of two latest driver videos from Tiger in the Bahamas below!
When does Tiger return?
The Hero World Challenge kicks off on Thursday 30th November - 3rd December, and takes place at the Ernie Els designed Albany Golf Course in the luxury New Providence resort in the Bahamas. The exclusive event, which is hosted by Tiger and is a benefit for his foundation, has just 18 men in the field.
This year's field includes: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Alex Noren, Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Patrick Reed, Kevin Kisner, Charley Hoffman, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell and Tiger Woods.
How to watch:
Thursday: 5.30pm (Sky Sports Golf & Sky Sports Main Event)
Friday: 5.30pm (Sky Sports Golf), 6pm (Sky Sports Main Event)
Saturday: 5pm (Sky Sports Golf), 7.40pm (Sky Sports Main Event)
Sunday: 4pm (Sky Sports Golf), 6.30pm (Sky Sports Main Event)
Scroll to the bottom for tee times!
Standing with the winner: Last year Tiger finished -4 for the event, which was 14 shots behind 2016 Hero World Challenge winner Hideki Matsuyama
Is Tiger ready to make his return?
At the Presidents Cup Woods admitted there was a chance that he may not return, but less than a month later announced he would be playing in the Hero Challenge - and we don't think he'd make a comeback this time until he actually felt ready.
All we’ve really seen so far are slow-motion videos of his swing and heard comments about how he’s hitting it, so it’s hard to scale that up and say he’s ready to return. Having said that, his swing looks good in his latest video, and even though it remains to be seen whether he’s ready or not, the Hero World Challenge is the perfect place for him to measure himself against his peers.
Why? The 18-man event isn’t played on a particularly demanding course – and given that it is prone to producing low scores, it’s a great place for Woods to build up tournament confidence and get a big boost in the World rankings. Not only that, but because it's a reduced field event without a cut, it gives him a guaranteed four rounds of tournament play.
Tiger: Is he actually hitting it as far as everyone says?
Rickie Fowler said a few weeks ago that Tiger was hitting it ‘way past’ him in practice, while Brad Faxon said that during their round with President Trump that Tiger was hitting it past DJ about ‘half the time’.
We'll let you make your own assumptions about how much truth there is in these rumours, but considering Tiger's multitiude of surgeries, I’d be surprised if come Sunday we’ve seen him outdrive DJ at least ‘half the time’ as Faxon suggests. It seems that Graeme McDowell isn’t so sure either, taking to instagram comments to express his own doubts on that specific matter.
He wrote in comments on instagram "I agree he is the GOAT @smciam but DJ is no slouch and at the peak of his phsyical powers. I just don't see how Tiger is that long already."
He followed it up with: "My comment has nothing to do with how great I think Tiger is (I think he's the best ever), it's just a BS call based on one of THE best drivers of the ball in the World right now, DJ. Tiger is an awesome athlete but after all his health issues, I just can't see how he would be hitting it past DJ, half the time, right away."
However, adding to the speculation of his length was this post on twitter from GC Tiger Tracker, where it was revealed that during his nine hole practice with Patrick Reed, Woods was hitting it consistently past the American.
On Monday he said that "He hit it by me a couple of times. Did I bomb one and he hit it past me? No. But he did hit it past me a few times. He was moving it."
What would be a good result?
He's going to go in hoping to contend, which would truthfully be a phenomenal result given that the highest ranked player in the field other than himself is Kevin Chappell (World No. 32). However, given that he barely managed eight rounds of competitive golf from this event last year to needing a fourth back surgery, just simply four pain-free rounds would be a great thing for Woods.
It would be unrealistic to think he’s going to come out and be able to dominate an event against some of the best players in the World when he hasn’t competed since February, and even then that wasn't the comeback he would have wanted. Given that he missed a cut and withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic with back spasms, contending at the top would be a phenomenal but unlikely result, and winning would pleasantly shock everyone here at TG.
Swing from Tiger's practice round with Patrick Reed on Monday
In the unlikely event that he DID win, will it matter?
Let’s get this out of the way – winning the event would be impressive beyond comprehension on his return, but whether it would actually be indicative of how he will play in a proper PGA Tour event is more uncertain.
There’s no debate that it would matter hugely for his world ranking and would certainly be a considerable boost for the ego, but it would be misguided to think that he could instantly replicate that in an event that has several times the number in the field, is on a more difficult course and has a cut.
Let us consider his comeback performance last year; For a very brief period in last year’s tournament Tiger held a share of the lead, and even posted the highest number of birdies during the week. Regardless, he also finished 15th out of 17 thanks to the highest number of bogeys, yet it still made for exciting viewing and speculation he could return to his best.
His first return after that was the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he had a tumultuous first round that included 3 birdies, five bogeys and a double, before posting a level-par 72 on Friday. He wasn’t the worst, but he did miss the cut and it was evident that he needed competitive rounds under his belt. From there he went to Dubai, and withdrew after shooting a five-over round and enduring back-spasms. With that in mind, even if he does win, it would be far too early to tell.
Tee Times: Hero World Challenge (UK time)
4.10pm Hideki Matsuyama & Francesco Molinari
4.21pm Charley Hoffman & Kevin Chappell
4.32pm Patrick Reed & Daniel Berger
4.43pm Justin Rose & Tommy Fleetwood
4.54pm Henrik Stenson & Alex Noren
5.05pm Tiger Woods & Justin Thomas
5.16pm Dustin Johnson & Brooks Koepka
5.17pm Kevin Kisner & Rickie Fowler
5.38pm Matt Kuchar & Jordan Spieth