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Tiger Woods makes competitive comeback at Hero World Challenge

The Guardian The Guardian 3 days ago Ewan Murray
Tiger Woods hits an approach shot on the 14th hole during round one of the Hero World Challenge at Albany. © Getty Images Tiger Woods hits an approach shot on the 14th hole during round one of the Hero World Challenge at Albany.

For eight holes the fairytale was alive. Tiger Woods, on his return to golf after a 15-month absence from competition, was four under par and in a share of the lead at the Hero World Challenge. He couldn’t, could he?

A stumble followed, the kind that rather sums up Woods’s career since 2013. In relative terms an opening round of 73, one over par, in the Bahamas would probably always have been acceptable, given how long the 14-times major champion had been sidelined, but the hope as offered to millions of onlookers during that early stretch meant the score was laced with disappointment.

Woods himself could not contain his anger on the 18th tee at Albany, having watched a tee shot fly from the toe of his driver and into the water hazard. The fact that the 40-year-old used the club in question for that was a subtle indicator of his late-round desperation. Other players in the field, with considerably less distance available than Woods, had used fairway woods at the same juncture.

“I hit it in three bushes and had a water ball,” Woods said later. “So it could have been something really good. It was a solid start, I just made a few mistakes and things started going the wrong way. I let a good round slip away at the end.

“I had some awkward shots out there. If you are driving it well, you can tear this course apart. If not, you are in among bushes and rocks but, all in all, I feel pretty good. I am looking forward to another three days out here.

“I was pleased with how quickly I fell into the competitive flow of things, how I got used to the feel of the round. By the time I hit my tee shot on the 2nd, I was already in the flow of the round. To not play for 15 months and get that on the second hole was nice.”

Woods added that he had to “dumb down” a rush of adrenaline early in proceedings.

First, the good stuff. Woods’s iron play on this, his first time with a competition card in his hand for 466 days, was controlled. He showed no signs of physical discomfort at all, which will always be a significant factor after multiple back surgeries. Although Woods watched a series of birdie and par putts slide by, his stroke on the greens appeared perfectly sound. There was also no indication of the chipping yips that have been rumoured around Woods for so long.

At the 14th there was a classic Woods moment. Having found wasteland from the tee and then a green‑side bunkerwith his second shot, the most famous golfer of a generation was faced with a putt from the fringe to save par. He duly rolled it in before pumping the air; such moments were once standard for Woods.

By this stage, though, Woods was scrambling to keep his round together. He had taken bogey sixes at the 9th and 11th. Having made a straightforward birdie at the 15th, a par-five where he found the putting surface with a drive and a 7-iron, Woods could fare no better than a double bogey on the 16th from a second-shot position on the middle of the fairway.

That aberration on the closing hole ensured an unwelcome finish of two double bogeys from the 16th tee onwards. Woods’s outward nine of 33 contrasted markedly with an inward half of 40. Complete statistics showed six from 13 fairways found, 11 out of 18 greens in regulation and a total of 29 putts.

The Hero World Challenge’s propensity to produce low scores continued. JB Holmes leads the way after day one, having recorded a 64. The Open champion, Henrik Stenson, signed for a 67, with Jordan Spieth’s 68 notable for two chip-ins.

With Woods 17th in an 18-man field, Justin Rose at least offered him some cause to smile. The Englishman surprisingly slipped to a 74.

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