Tiger Woods 'drove it like a champ,' but rust is apparent at Hero World Challenge

NASSAU, BAHAMAS - NOVEMBER 29: Tiger Woods of the United States plays his tee shot on the third hole during the first round of the 2018 Hero World Challenge at the Albany Bahamas on November 29, 2018 in Nassau, Bahamas. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images) David Cannon/Getty Images

Tiger Woods 'drove it like a champ,' but rust is apparent at Hero World Challenge

PGA Tour

Tiger Woods 'drove it like a champ,' but rust is apparent at Hero World Challenge

NASSAU, Bahamas – Tiger Woods is coming off a much-needed break, a few months focused on recovery and fitness.

Golf has only very recently become the real focus again. In that sense it’s no surprise that Woods looked rusty in spots during Round 1 of the Hero World Challenge.

He nearly got away with a decent score thanks to his driver, but a triple bogey at the par-3 12th erased a lot of good work and put him second-to-last with a 1-over 73 at Albany Golf Course in the Bahamas.

“I didn’t quite feel comfortable with my game today, even though I drove it great,” Woods said. “It was definitely reflective in my scoring today. I didn’t quite feel comfortable and just didn’t quite hit the ball close enough or give myself a lot of looks at it.”

When you watch a full 18 holes it becomes apparent how even one below-average shot can ruin a round. In Woods’ case Thursday that was a 7 iron that ended up a little left and short of the green and led to the aforementioned triple. His ball was sitting up just above a hazard and he was trying to blast it past the flag it out of a dicey downhill lie. He wasn’t trying to get it close. Just wanted to leave maybe 10-12 feet for par.

The ball didn’t come out right, stopped short of the green and rolled back into the hazard. Woods had to take a drop from there and two-putted for a triple-bogey six.

Elsewhere Woods was great off the tee and average with his iron play. He struggled most in the short game. Basically that’s what we saw out of him in “The Match” with Phil Mickelson, and since he didn’t play any other fall events it’s going to take a little time to work out.

Woods hit 12 of 13 fairways and 14 of 18 greens. He often drove it past playing partner Justin Thomas, who told a member of Woods’ team how impressed he was with the bullets off the tee in the clubhouse after the round.

Woods went to a high fade with the driver throughout the FedEx Cup Playoffs run because it was repeatable and he knew he could hit fairways, even if he had to sacrifice some distance. He has a different ball flight off the tee now. He’s actually hitting stingers with the driver on occasion, able to take some spin off the ball, and he’s still finding the fairways.

“I thought he drove it like a champ,” caddie Joe LaCava said. “I said, ‘Look, if you drive it this way, we’ve got no issues going forward.’”

Going forward meaning once he starts his season for real, whether that’s shortly after New Year’s at the Sentry Tournament of Champions or in late January at Torrey Pines.

He’s easing his way back into things this week in the Bahamas, the most low-key event on the schedule and easily the best tournament for fans to get up close. He still wants to play well, obviously, so Thursday was disappointing.

Woods also got sick right after “The Match,” and that’s not helping.

“I just don’t have the same energy,” Woods said. “That’s just from being under the weather like I have been. I’ve just been rundown and I’m tired and been trying to catch up with it. You know, at least I’m not coughing anymore, which is nice.”

He would have liked to hit a few short irons closer than he did from good spots in the fairway, but that’s usually the strongest part of his game. If that’s still his biggest concern come Sunday, it’ll have been a very productive week in the Bahamas.

“I think there’s just some rust going on,” LaCava said. “Not worried about (the short game). But you also have to pay attention to that and get after it, which he will. He certainly wants to play well here, but the start of his next season is whenever he starts up next year. That’s not to say he doesn’t want to do well. He wants to do well every time he plays, even in his backyard or at Medalist. The important thing was he needed the time off, needed to get away and get healthier, which I think he did. So it’s mission accomplished in terms of that.”

Woods often talked about the process last season, about how much went into it health-wise, swing-wise, equipment-wise, schedule-wise. Pretty much every aspect of professional golf needed to be rebuilt in some fashion, and it took a full season to do it.

This is the start of a new process, one which shouldn’t be nearly as intensive or lengthy. But it’s still a process. He can’t just flip a switch and get back to where he was at East Lake right out of the gate.

Thursday’s rocky opening-round proved that.

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