5 takeaways from Tiger Woods' performance at Hero World Challenge

Tiger Woods had plenty of shining moments in his return to golf.

5 takeaways from Tiger Woods' performance at Hero World Challenge

PGA Tour

5 takeaways from Tiger Woods' performance at Hero World Challenge

LEADERBOARD

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NEW PROVIDENCE, Bahamas – Well, he finished. Physically, after nearly 16 months out, Tiger Woods got through the week at the Hero World Challenge at Albany. And that was important.

There was good – a bogey-free, 7-under 65 Friday – as well as some ugly – a closing 76 on Sunday that included three double bogeys, two of them on par 5s. He finished the week at 4-under 284, finishing solo 15th in an 18-player starting field. If this man always thought that second sucks, well, we’d hate to know what he thinks of 15th.

However, big picture, Tiger Woods, for the first time since August of 2015, had competitive golf to play. And that was a big happening for golf.

He walked and played 90 holes (counting Wednesday’s pro-am), and was standing tall in his Sunday red at the end, having made it through. He survived it feeling fine. You might laugh at that notion, as Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, pointed out, but that was the real goal for the week.

Woods finished up with his sloppiest round of the four days. He made five birdies Sunday, which was promising, and even led every player in that category (making 24 on the week). But he also had far too many mistakes to score well.

“Big picture? It feels good,” Woods said Sunday. “It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat the best players in the world. I missed it. I love it.”

Woods, who’ll turn 41 on Dec. 30, didn’t finish well in three of his four rounds, but that’s something that can return in time. Here are five quick takeaways after closely watching Woods for a week in his return to competitive golf:

1. He appears healthy

OK, there’s the eight or so pounds he is down because a bug ran through the family in Florida, but that aside, the man has been through three back surgeries and has lots of pre-round and post-round work to do just to get his body ready to play 18 holes. This week was about the physical test as much as anything, and he looked fine in the end.

“I thought it was good,” LaCava said of the week. “He’s upright, No. 1. You laugh, but that’s good.”

2. He got into rounds quickly

Woods says that after long layoffs, it can take him several holes into his rounds to get into a proper competitive flow. “That was something I really worried about,” Woods said. The first day, he was into the round by the second hole; on the ensuing days, even earlier, making birdies at No. 1 twice.

“I’ve taken layoffs before because of injury and tried to come back. It’s hard,” he said. “Trying to manage all the adrenaline dump in the system, trying to calm the nerves, trying to calm the hands, the body, the speed. You’re a club longer on the range warming up … ‘Hold on here.’ That’s just different, and I had to find that.”

3. He showed he has a lot of shots

Woods drove it well at times, showed plenty of power (hitting it past Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler), controlled his trajectory well, moved the ball right-to-left with ease, and, most importantly, showed a lot of the short shots he’ll need to score again. Sure, there were some poor chips and pitches, but there were a few incredible ones, too, such as his up-and-down off hardpan sand on No. 6 on Friday and a long bunker shot he holed at the par-3 fifth on Saturday that ran him to 4 under through five. On the greens, his speed was acceptable and he made a handful of 20-to-25-footers to offset a few short misses on the weekend.

“He even said yesterday once he starts playing more, he’ll start thinking better and cleaning up some of the shots that he’s probably missing this week,” Brandt Snedeker said on Saturday. “His swing looks great. I think he’s done a lot of good work on it. It looks like he’s slowed the rhythm of it down a little bit, so he’s not going to be mechanical on the golf course. I’ve been really impressed with it.”

4. He brought some buzz back to golf

Sure, it’s December, and the Hero World Challenge isn’t even an official event. But at an unofficial event at the end of a long, long year, Woods’ presence brought out a pretty healthy contingent among the national media, and certainly generated some interest among golf fans who were disappointed when he decided to withdraw from the Safeway Open in October because he said he wasn’t ready.

“Personally, I think it’s a fun buzz within the players that aren’t Tiger,” Jordan Spieth said, “because we all want the opportunity to go head to head with him. That’s why we got into this, not to play for second, but to have a chance to take down one of the top players to ever play this game.”

5. He has changed expectations

We traveled to Albany this week, and folks flipped on television sets around the globe, not really knowing what Woods could deliver. We hadn’t seen him play in nearly a year and a half. There were folks who wondered if he even could chip a golf ball anymore, or still had the dreaded “chip yips.” But he showed he has plenty of game. Sure, four rounds isn’t very much to go on. But with more chances to compete and if he can get back to some semblance of a normal schedule, Woods should be able not only to contend again, but win again.

Definitely.

“There were plenty of good shots, plenty of good things to take away from here,” LaCava said. “I think he’s on his way.”

On his way. Tiger Woods is on his way. From where we all were a week ago, that sounds so promising. Can we picture Woods at a major championship in 2017, going head-to-head down the stretch with one of golf’s young guns? After watching his progress at Albany, what should we be expecting come the new year?

“A win,” said Notah Begay, Woods’ old Stanford teammate who called all Woods’ shots over four days for Golf Channel. “That’s ultimately the goal. He’s Tiger Woods.”

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