Tiger Woods in command with the driver at Hero World Challenge pro-am

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Tiger Woods in command with the driver at Hero World Challenge pro-am

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods in command with the driver at Hero World Challenge pro-am

NASSAU, Bahamas – Tiger Woods is starting the new season with the same set of clubs he used to win the Tour Championship at East Lake back in September.

The driver still works.

That much was apparent Wednesday during Woods’ pro-am round at Albany Golf Course ahead of the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.

Woods went off at 8:20 a.m. with a group including Hero MotorCorp CEO Dr. Pawan Munjal, and the consistency he showed with the driver during the FedEx Cup Playoffs carried into the Bahamas.

Woods was wearing Nike shades for much of the day – it’s rare to see him wearing those on the course, but this Bahamian sun is no joke –  and shot around 2-under par. The wind was swirling hard all morning but he clearly had control of his golf ball. And he was absolutely piping it off the tee.

Last year at this time Woods was just returning to competition, and it was unclear what he had in store. It was also unclear if he was physically healthy enough to play in more than a handful of tournaments.

With those questions answered, it’s a whole new ball game now.

“The expectations are much different this year,” Woods said. “Going into ’18 it was like, okay, let’s see if I can get through the west coast. … Let’s see my schedule. I should be able to make it through the summer. That sort of thing. Now I know that I can do it. Now it’s just about managing and making sure I’m fresh for events, because I know I can win tournaments again.”

Woods wasn’t quite in the same form he was for the Tour Championship considering he’s just starting to get back to working on his game. But he was very good Wednesday, maybe better than expected coming off a rusty showing for “The Match” in Las Vegas.

He had his best two-hole stretch at the par-4 14th and par-5 15th. Woods birdied both holes and was rewarded for taking driver at the short, 312-yard 14th. He actually drove it over the green and chipped on for the easy birdie. He smashed another drive at 15 and was just short of the green after his second shot, getting up-and-down for another birdie.

There are five par-5s here and Woods is going to hit driver a lot this week. He did so 11 times Wednesday and didn’t seem to have any trouble commanding the wind after the first couple of holes. The group cruised around in just under five hours, shorter than normal for a pro-am and one of the benefits of an 18-man field with no waiting on the tee.

Woods finished T-9 at 8 under in this tournament last year, 10 shots off the winning score as Rickie Fowler shot 61 in the final round to take it home. Scores won’t go that low this year if the wind continues to hit hard, so Woods doesn’t need to go out in full birdie-fest mode.

There are plenty of birdies to be had here, for sure, and Woods proved Wednesday he’s capable of making a good number if he putts well. He’s still using the Newport 2 Scotty Cameron putter after trying a few different flat sticks last season, and he looked like he was still trying to get dialed in on the greens.

Woods isn’t using a 2-iron this week and has a 5-wood in its place, the same setup he used throughout the playoffs.

So while a lot has changed since Woods was here a year ago, in many ways it’s like he’s picking up right where he left off.  A good place. Whether or not he can live up to the new expectations remains to be seen, but we’ll get our first look during his 12:05 p.m. tee time with Justin Thomas for Round 1 Thursday.

“It’s supposed to be great weather for the rest of the week,” Woods said. “We’re going to all have some fun.”

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