Matsuyama Triumphs as Tiger Returns at Hero Challenge
Post by Sports Writer Derek Clements
IT MAY not have been the fairytale ending that everybody would have loved to see, but Tiger Woods is back and there is every reason to believe it may not be too long before he is firing on all cylinders again.
There was plenty of ring-rust in evidence in his game at the Hero World Challenge at Albanay in the Bahamas but that was hardly surprising given that this was his first outing in 16 months after two serious back injuries. The best news of all is that he seemed to suffer no twinges, even when hitting recovery shots from the rubbish - and he did hit quite a few recovery shots.
Going into the final round, he was too far behind eventuial winner Hideki Matsuyama to ever consider that he had any chance of winning, but he would loved to have repeated the 65 he shot on day two.
Instead, he went backwards, with an early bogey and a double-bogey seven caused by a poor bunker shot and a flubbed pitch. However, Woods simply shrugged it all off and birdied the seventh, eighth and ninth holes to reach the turn in level par. Some will say that the course is not the hardest in the world, but there was a healthy wind blowing, many of the flags were located in some very tricky positions and nobody in the elite field of just 17 players was able to tear it up.
Woods was followed by the biggest gallery of the day, which tells you everything you need to know about his pulling power. But he made a dreadful start to the back nine, heading for home with a bogey and another double-bogey. He also bogeyed the 12th hole, missing a short par putt. This was not the way he wanted to finish his own tournament. He was four under for the tournament, but four over for the day.
One thing that will worry him is that he continues to struggle around the greens - this is a man who used to hole pitches, chips and flop shots for fun. Who will ever forget THAT chip he holed from just off the 16th green at The Masters? Now, with a wedge in his hands there is a vulnerability and he will be deeply concerned about whether he will ever again be able to count on it when the pressure is on. All in all, his game looked in decent shape with several of his dropped shots coming after magnificent-looking iron shots that would have finished next to the pin had it not been for the fact that the ball landed inches to the wrong side.
Most encouraging of all is that he is swinging the club beautifully and, more importantly, generally with little or no effort. He has also rediscover the art of balance. In the end, he finished with a disappointing 76 and closed the week in 15th place.
Matsuyama birdied the third, which he needed to do after an early flourish by Dustin Johnson. However, the American also hit some loose shots and when they reached the turn the lead was six shots, but with Henrik Stenson, playing in the last match with Matsuyama now his nearest challenger after an eagle at the ninth.
Stenson maintained the pressure throughout the round and ate away at Matsuyama's lead. The Swede shot a 68 for a 16-under-par total of 272, and ended the week two behind Matsuyama, who recorded a 73.
It was the first time in 20 rounds of golf that Matsuyama had failed to break par, and was his fourth win in five starts - by anybody's standards, those are impressive statistics. The 24-year-old Japanese golfer is ranked sixth in the world and is surely destined to become number one at some time in the not-too-distant future. He has a distinct pause at the top of his backswing and a style that is all his own, but it works. Like Bubba Watson, he has never had a golf lesson in his life.
Asked about that pause, Matsuyama says that it is not something he worked on. He has done it since the day he picked up a golf club for the first time, and there is little doubt that it helps him with his tempo.
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