Tiger Woods' expectations 'tempered' entering Hero World Challenge

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Tiger Woods' expectations 'tempered' entering Hero World Challenge

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods' expectations 'tempered' entering Hero World Challenge

Tiger Woods is set to address the media at 10:30 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday in the Bahamas. But first Woods went on Golf Channel’s Morning Drive, along with Dustin Johnson, to speak with Todd Lewis.

Woods, 41, will play his first competitive golf round since withdrawing from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in February and undergoing a spinal fusion in April. The surgery was his fourth back operation and put his return to golf in doubt.

“I don’t know if retirement was the word, but I didn’t think I could play golf with my friends again because I spent most of the last year or so in bed,” Woods said. “I wasn’t able to go out and have dinner, I couldn’t sit, and so a lot of things were very, very difficult, and playing golf at an elite level was the furthest thing from my mind.”

Yet here Woods is, back on the golf course. In past comebacks, Woods still had high expectations, including at the 2016 Hero World Challenge, which came after a 15-month layoff.

“I’m going to try to do what I always do,” Woods said last year in the Bahamas. “I’m entered in this event, and I’m going to try and win. I know that’s a tall order.”

But on Tuesday, Woods admitted his expectations for this week have been “tempered a little bit.”

“I’ve been away from the game for about two years,” Woods said. “It’s been a very difficult couple of years. I’m trying to take it easy on myself, because normally I’m not. I’m pretty fiery and want to go out and really beat some of these guys up. But I haven’t had the practice, I haven’t had the work-up like these guys have had. … I just want to gradually work myself into the tournament.”

More suggests that this return could be different. Patrick Reed, who played nine holes with Woods on Monday, was impressed by Woods’ game.

“The last time I played with him it looked like there was a little bit of hesitation going after different shots, like bunker shots, shots out of the rough. This time he was fully committed and fully trusting his body that there would be no pain,” Reed said. “That’s the biggest thing for me; if he stays healthy and his body cooperates the way it’s supposed to, he’ll be back to playing golf, hopefully like he used to play.

“He had pep in his step. He was in high spirits. I was shocked how fluid his swing was and how far the ball was going.”

Brad Faxon, who teed it up with Woods, Dustin Johnson and Donald Trump last Friday, echoed those statements.

He looked effortless, he looked free, he had some power,” Faxon said exclusively to Golfweek. “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.”

Said Johnson: “Swinging much better, swinging with some speed. It was good to see.”

Woods said he doesn’t have the same range of motion as he did before this last surgery, but he also doesn’t have the pain. (“I’ll take that,” Woods said.) He’s spent months of rehab getting used to his “new body.” Entering Thursday, Woods feels like he’s ready.

“I’m comfortable with pretty much every shot in the bag, but I’m still learning my distance control again,” Woods said.

He’ll need to learn how to takes things slow, too. Winning will no longer come easy for the 14-time major winner.

“I would like to play at the elite level; I miss being at that level,” Woods said. “… I feel like I certainly have the mind to do it, I certainly have the hands to do it, it’s just a matter of having the body to do it, and that’s going to take time.”

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