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Will Tiger Return with a Roar or Whimper?

By: Golfshake Editor | Mon 28 Nov 2016

Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements

HE'S back, and with all due respect to everybody else taking part in the Hero Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas, Tiger Woods is the only show in town. He will be making his first competitive appearance in 16 months and the eyes of the world will be on him.

Woods tells us that he has been routinely tearing up Isleworth, the course that used to host this event and is in the centre of the gated community where the 40-year-old lives. But scoring rounds of 62 and 63 when there is nothing on the line is rather different from competing with people in the gallery and television cameras watching his every move. Woods hosts this invitation-only tournament but the last time he played in it was in 2014 when he resembled an 18-handicapper when he got around the greens, fluffing shots into bunkers and thinning pitch-shots across the greens.

Later that season he shot a career-worst 82 in the second round of the Phoenix Open and at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he won the 2008 US Open while nursing a broken leg, he quit during the first round. 

Woods was ranked No 1 in the world for a record 683 weeks. At the end of last season his ranking had tumbled to 416. Incredibly, he is now the 861st-ranked player in professional golf. This, remember, is a man who has won 14 majors. But his broken body has brought his glorious career to a juddering halt and since that dreadful day at Torrey Pines he has undergone two major surgical procedures on his back.

Any golfer will tell you that when your back goes, you are done. But Rocco Mediate, the man who took Woods to 91 holes at the 2008 US Open, came back from a back injury that  he was told would finish his career and is still going strong on the Champions Tour.

Woods was meant to make his comeback at the Safeway Open in October. Just six days before he was due to tee off he confirmed that he would be in the field but on the Monday - the day after the USA beat Europe to win the Ryder Cup - he withdrew, saying that his game was not ready after all. How could it be ready on the Friday but not so on the Monday? We all concluded that he had suffered from stage fright, with Johnny Miller telling him that the only way to put his latest injury nightmare behind him was by getting out on the course and "getting it done".

But Tiger has always done things his own way, and this time he insists that he is ready. “I am excited to make my return at the Hero World Challenge at Albany and play in this terrific tournament," Woods said. "This is our 18th year, and every year we put together a top field that showcases the best golfers from the previous season. Albany is an outstanding setting, and I can't thank Hero MotoCorp enough for their support of the tournament and my foundation.”

Woods, whose Tiger Woods Foundation is the event's charitable beneficiary along with the Tavistock Foundation and Albany Scholars Programme, is a five-time winner of the Hero World Challenge. There will be those who say it is little more than an exhibition event - try telling that to the likes of defending champion Bubba Watson (a man with a point to prove after being overlooked for the Ryder Cup), Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Patrick Reed, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Justin Rose. Danny Willett is the only one of this season's major champions not taking part.  The field of 18 includes nine major champions, 16 of the top 25 players in the world rankings and the men who won gold, silver and bronze medals at the Rio Olympic Games - Rory McIlroy and Jason Day are the only significant absentees.

So Woods knows that he will have to bring his A-game with him. Will he win? No chance. Will he make a run at the title? Of course he won't. It is to be hoped that he has finally learnt that it is not necessary to hit the ball as hard as he possibly can. He has always played his best golf when he has looked like he is swinging within himself, and it is a long time since we have seen that. If he can finish 72 holes under par and without chunking any chip shots into bunkers, he will consider this to be a triumphant combeack.

As far as the serious business is concerned, Spieth bounced back to his very best when he won the recent Australian Open for the second time in three years. He putted like a magician again and, in the main, kept the ball in play. He will be difficult to beat. But I fancy that the man who will be heading home with the winner's cheque is Hideki Matsuyama, of Japan. He played well at the World Cup of Golf and is in a rich vein of form - if you are looking to invest some money on the potential winner of next year's Masters, you could do an awful lot worse than putting in on Matsuyama.

Because this is an 18-man field, we are only going to tip a winner and three each-way bets. So here we go:

To Win: Hideki Matsuyama. In the form of his life

Each Way: Jordan Spieth. Back to his best

Each Way: Henrik Stenson. What a season, what a player!

Each Way: Patrick Reed. Still going up in the world

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Tags: tiger woods PGA Tour

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