Hero World Challenge Preview, Picks & Analysis
THERE is only one story in town this week - the comeback of a certain Tiger Woods at his own tournament, the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. With all the trials and tribulations Woods has endured in recent times, it is all too easy to forget that he actually played in this event last year and recorded more birdies than anybody else in the field. But he also dropped more shots than any other player.
He then headed off to Torrey Pines and missed the cut at the Farmers Insurance Open before climbing aboard a plane and flying halfway across the world to take part in the Dubai Desert Classic, withdrawing after a miserable opening round of 77. It is safe to say that no matter what may happen in the future, Woods will never again make the same mistake. A man with the history of back problems that Woods has should surely never have attempted to play in California one week and Dubai the next.
It all ended with him going under the surgeon's knife yet again - his fourth serious back surgery. And as recently as September, on the eve of the Presidents' Cup, Woods was telling the world's media that he may never play competitive golf again. So it came as a huge surprise when, less than two weeks later, he was posting film on Twitter showing him hitting wedge shots. Days after that we were treated to further images, this time showing Woods hitting full iron shots.
And, lo and behold, before we had time to draw breath, there he was showing us that he was now able to go after the ball with his driver. And the swing looked good. Then we were informed that Woods had been given the all-clear by doctors to return to competitive action. The cynics among us wondered whether Woods knew all along that he was going to be back in action before the year was out, while the golf fans among us just want to see him hitting a ball in anger again.
Rickie Fowler tells us that Woods is striping the ball, hitting it way past him - and hitting it straight. And Woods himself has confirmed that he is now hitting the ball better than he has done in years. He says that he is pain-free at last and can't wait to test himself against his peers. Not only that, but he has joined the calls for the powers-that-be to address the issue of how far the ball now travels.
It has to be said that, based on the evidence we have been shown, Woods' swing looks great - possibly as good as it has ever looked. But we have been here before. Can he go out there, in the heat of battle, and remember to swing within himself?
The likes of Brandel Chamblee and Sergio Garcia have questioned whether Woods will ever again be competitive, with Chamblee reminding us all of his chipping woes. Chamblee believes that if you are ever afflicted by the chipping yips then you will always suffer. What he fails to say is that when we were watching in horror as Woods hit chips that you would expect to see a 28-handicapper play, he was in pain and his confidence was at an all-time low.
Let's not kid ourselves - Tiger Woods, who is fast approaching his 42nd birthday, will never again dominate the game of golf the way that he once did. But this is a man who has won 14 majors and has broken records for fun. If he returns to the sport and is fully fit - and can stay fit - there is no reason why he cannot win golf tournaments again.
The Hero World Challenge features a field of 18 of the world's best players, with profits going to the Tiger Woods Foundation, which has raised tens of millions dollars
“I am excited to return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge,” Woods said. “Albany is the perfect setting and it will be great to join this outstanding field. I want to thank Pawan Munjal and Hero MotoCorp for their continued support of this tournament and my foundation. I would also like to thank the fans for their unwavering support during my injury.”
Even if the man is able to produce four sub-par rounds (and don't rule it out), Woods will have his work cut out even to finish in the top 10 in the Bahamas. If you doubt it, take a look at the men he will be up against:
Dustin Johnson, the world No1, Open champion Jordan Spieth, Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood, PGA champion Justin Thomas, US Open champion Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar, Justin Rose, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Kisner, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Alex Noren and Henrik Stenson, Hideki Matsuyama, Francesco Molinari and Patrick Reed will all be keeping Woods company. Between them, these 18 golfers have won 22 majors, and 13 of them competed in the Presidents Cup. Phil Mickelson is the only member of the US team who will not be playing.
Yes, this is a fun tournament, but every one of these guys is there to win. Make no mistake, it is a world-class field, and we know that Thomas, Rose, Fowler, Kisner and Fleetwood are all in form, and you can bet your last pound on the fact that Johnson will be desperate to put to rest the memories of his final-round collapse at the recent WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, when his 77 allowed Rose to move through the field and win.
We would normally pick a winner, a couple of each-way bets and a list of 10 fantasy picks but with just 18 players in the field we are simply going to predict that it will come down to a battle between Johnson and Thomas for the title. As far as Woods is concerned, let us all just hope that he comes through 72 holes without suffering any pain and that he is able to hit fairways and hole a few birdie putts. And wouldn't it be nice to see him hole a couple of chips?
It's going to be a fun four days and it will tell us a great deal about what we can expect to see from Woods in the coming months and I, for one, cannot wait (although I will have my fingers firmly crossed).
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