LAS VEGAS – Tiger Woods is back where he started.
Well, back where this started.
This being the comeback season that technically began at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas and culminated in the Tour Championship victory at East Lake.
Woods finished T-9 in the Bahamas and would have done better if not for a third-round 75. His easy movements and smashed drives throughout that week hinted that maybe there was something to Woods’ resurgence after all.
The idea of Woods in a high-profile showdown for $9 million was laughable back then. So was the idea of him laughing it up with Phil Mickelson after losing a head-to-head match.
Yet that’s exactly where he was Friday night during a press conference in the clubhouse at Shadow Creek. He’d just lost the main event on the 22nd hole after twice failing to hit the green on a modified 93-yard par 3. He’d missed several short putts on the day and also missed one to win it in regulation at the 18th hole.
“We went out there and played hard,” Woods said. “I had plenty of opportunities to make putts today and I didn’t make any putts to put a little pressure on Phil. I had an opportunity on the last hole to win the match and I hit a bad putt, and then in extra holes – how do you not hit the green with lob wedge? Twice. So that was an opportunity that was wasted.”
Woods was heading back home to Jupiter, Fla. with caddie Joe LaCava after a Saturday morning pro-am. Both were staying in Jupiter for the weekend before heading out to Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas for Woods’ Hero World Challenge event.
“The Match” offered our first glimpse of Woods since a disappointing week at the Ryder Cup in Paris. He looked totally burned out at Le Golf National, ready to put the sticks away for awhile and catch his breath.
He had a refreshed look about him this week in Las Vegas.
People forget how much golf he played in the weeks leading up to Paris, with all four FedEx Cup Playoff events on the heels of a summer that was already much busier than he’d ever planned. That’s what makes this season different. Woods knows what to expect, and he’s preparing like it.
“I’ve tried to keep myself sharp in the last month or so,” Woods said. “I needed a break away from the game to physically get myself a little bit stronger and refreshed. I was able to do that. I’m still probably trending on the way upward, getting sharp. This was fun to play a match and not have to worry about making a 7 or 8 on the hole. That was good, and head into next week and a stroke-play event.”
Woods placed a huge priority on getting back to the gym this offseason. The regimens aren’t nearly as frequent or intense as they were back in the day, but he needed to build a foundation for the year ahead.
Now that he says the work has been done there, it’s time to see how rusty the golf looks after significant time away from the course.
There were a few errant drives during “The Match” and some shots he’d like to have back, but overall the game looked decent in Las Vegas.
It figures he created the most exciting moment of the day, seemingly out of nowhere, when Mickelson had a chance to close him out at the short par-3 17th. Woods chipped in from off the green for birdie to win the hole and bring the match to the 18th, denying Mickelson the additional pleasure after Lefty predicted in the days leading up he would finish Woods off on the 17th hole.
By that time it was getting dark and Woods needed to call LaCava in on every putt, which made the misses look more pronounced. Overall, LaCava thought it was a promising start.
That’s because while “The Match” is over, for Woods it marked the beginning of a new season with plenty of anticipation behind it. Last year at this time, most just hoped to see a few healthy consecutive tournaments played.
This season, expectations are big. They are of Woods’ own creation. The question isn’t whether or not he can win but how often he’ll do so. And whether or not his dedication to the workout grind over the past several weeks will pay off.
Now that Woods has gotten over the hump with win No. 80, now that he’s held up physically, now that he’s enjoyed an idea that had to be a little outside his comfort zone with “The Match,” nothing is out of the question as he begins a new season in the Bahamas. Gwk