Monday 29 May 2017

Tiger mixes rough with smooth on big return

Tiger Woods feels the heat as he lines up a putt on the 10th green. Photo: AP
Tiger Woods feels the heat as he lines up a putt on the 10th green. Photo: AP

James Corrigan

For eight holes it was like the glorious Tiger Woods of old - and for the remaining 10 it was the wasteful Tiger Woods of recent vintage.

The game of golf knew that the icon's return after a 16-month absence would be worth watching, but few would have expected to witness these peaks and troughs.

The 40-year-old was actually leading the Hero World Challenge when he was walking to the ninth tee, having picked up four birdies in a remarkable start to his first competitive outing since August, 2015.

For a few hours the multiple back operations had been forgotten and all the obits of his career seemed ridiculously premature.

But then, as it often does in this maddening sport, reality intervened in the fairytale. Two double-bogeys in the last three holes and he was one-over, down in 17th place in the 18-man field, nine off the lead held by JB Holmes, with only Justin Rose, on two-over, below.

In the end was a harsh first day back in the office, but he took the lesson in valiant spirits.

"It felt good, I was able to feel the round and was pleased how quickly I got into the competitive flow," he said.

"But I let a good round slip away at the end. It could have been something really good. But think about it. I hit it in three bushes and had a water ball. I'm looking forward to the next three rounds."

There were an estimated crowd of only 200 when he set out on the Albany course but, around the golfing world, it was proving to be one of the more eagerly-awaited rounds of the year

It was like the Tiger from yore from the off. He always used to miss the fairway with his opening drive and so it was again, as he pulled it into rough.

Nerves

No matter, he made his par and did so again on the second to calm the nerves.

Then came the first of four birdies in six holes which had the sport in full retro glory.

From a tight lie on the par-five third he played a fine pitch to two feet.

There was another up and down on the fourth and then a lip out for birdie on the fifth.

On the sixth he holed an eight-footer, on the seventh he hit a wedge shot to six feet and then on the eighth made it three in succession when he hit his tee-shot on the par-three to four feet.

At that moment, Woods was top of the leaderboard and a member of the ever-growing gallery screamed, "the big cat is back!".

In the frenzy, perhaps nobody stopped to wonder which of the nine lives this cat was using up.

On the ninth, he drove into the cabbage and took his first bogey of the day; on the 11th, he was again errant off the tee-box, finding a bush from where he needed a drop. Another bogey.

On the par-three 13th, he seemed on the brink of his third bogey in five holes when finding the sand with his drive. But once more he chipped close.

And then, the memories of Woods came flooding back as he holed a 15-footer for a par on the 14th.

He capitalised on his trademark escape on the par-five 15th where he hit his long iron to 12 feet. He missed the eagle, but was back to three-under and back in the top 10.

And so he marched to the 16th tee and to the mini collapse that what perhaps inevitable.

Two bushes collected his ball on the way to the double-bogey six and of the 18th his driver kept to type, hooking the ball into the water.

Woods smacked the offending club into the ground and 10 minutes later was signing for a 73.

Many expected it to be worse. As he was to acknowledge, it could and should have been so much better.

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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