Woods last, but pain-free, at Hero World Challenge

Woods last, but pain-free, at Hero World Challenge

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Woods last, but pain-free, at Hero World Challenge

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Only Tiger Woods could finish tied for last, a full 26 strokes behind the winner, Jordan Spieth, and still claim this week a victory of sorts. That’s because despite shooting an even-par round of 72 in the final round of the Hero World Challenge, Woods passed an important test. He finished with his health intact.

“First things first: playing a golf tournament without being in pain, without having to call my physio every day or having to put out fires with my body,” he said. “I’m in absolutely no pain, which is nice.”

After a long sabbatical, Woods got off to a nervy start with a 77 in his first competitive round since the PGA Championship. But he made steady improvement the next two days, posting 70 and 69. A noticeably thinner Woods hit nine of 14 fairways in the final round, nuking a couple of drives at least 40 yards past playing competitor Steve Stricker.

“Look how far I’m hitting it again now. That’s nice,” Woods said. “I just obviously need to clean up my short game. That still needs a lot of work.”

Stricker agreed that it had been a long time since he’d seen Woods swing so freely.

“It looks like he’s always trying to steer it into play the last 5, 6, 7 years, but today he really let it go and trusted it for the most part,” Stricker said, adding that his game is not far off.

Woods toured the front nine in 2-under 34 and it could’ve been a lot lower if his putter didn’t continue to misbehave. He was skating along until he missed the par 5, 13th hole in two and his ball settled in the same collection area right of the green where he had stubbed chips in two previous rounds. Woods did it twice more, bringing his total of chunked chips for the week to nine. He three-putted for a triple-bogey 8 on the hole. But Woods seemed confident he would figure out what he described repeatedly as “his new release pattern” for shots inside 40 yards.

“All it is is practice,” Woods said. “I just need to work.”

Woods acknowledged that his putting was also “just a touch off,” but noted he “started to figure something out today.”

Woods said he would be reviewing his performance with his new swing consultant, Chris Como, and planned to practice for the next week to reinforce the work they have done together before taking a break for the holiday season. As for his forthcoming schedule for the start of the New Year, Woods played coy.

“I know it’s a pretty full schedule. I’ll leave it at that,” he said. “I think if I stay the course that I’m on right now that I’ll be physically able to do what I want to do, and that’s the biggest difference.”

A new year and a new challenge await for Woods, and finishing last will no longer be acceptable

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