Sunday 27 May 2018

Pain-free Woods wants a 'giggle' in much-hyped return

Tiger Woods. Photo: Getty Images
Tiger Woods. Photo: Getty Images

Brian Keogh

It doesn't matter if you're Tiger Woods, Darren Clarke, Michael Hoey, or Gavin Moynihan - golf is more fun when you're happy.

Even if you're not playing well, it's far easier to hack it around when life is good which is why all four have reason to hope they can finish 2017 on a high and head into the new year with hope in their hearts.

After losing his card in 2016, Hoey is looking to put a miserable year behind him with a decent showing in the Australian PGA Championship on the sun-splashed Gold Coast at the RACV Royal Pines Resort.

Clarke, who will be eligible for the Champions Tour when he turns 50 next August, might be happy to make a cut in a European Tour event for the first time since the 2016 Open when he joins European Tour rookie Moynihan in the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.

After all, the Ulster man is ranked even lower than World No 1,199 Woods, who hasn't won a world ranking point since he finished 15th of 17 in the Hero World Challenge last year.

The 14-time Major winner came back out and missed the cut at Torrey Pines, then withdrew after one round in the Dubai Desert Classic before undergoing yet another back surgery a few months later.

Woods tees it up with reigning US PGA champion Justin Thomas in the Hero World Challenge at Albany in the Bahamas today hoping to contend but realistically praying he can play a smile on his face for four days running.

As he pointed out ahead of his highly-anticipated return this week, a pain-free life is a good life. Golf? For now, that's a bonus.

"The surgery was about quality of life," he said. "I didn't really have much because I had been in bed for two years.

"I feel fantastic. I miss playing golf for fun, I haven't done that in two years. Go out there and hit and giggle and play for some denominations and have a good time."

With only two of the world's top 10 missing from the elite 18-man field - Spain's Jon Rahm and world No 10 Rory McIlroy - not even the wildest optimist is expecting Woods to win.

The 41-year old has no idea how it will go either but encouraged by his play in practice, he has no fear that he will suffer a recurrence of the chipping yips, claiming those were all down to his bad back and a shooting pain down his leg.

"I'm winging this because I don't know what my body can and can't do yet," he said.

"I'm just looking forward to getting through these four rounds and having a better understanding of where I'm at."

Pain-free, he's optimistic that now that he can finally start practising again, good things lie ahead.

"Now I can start chipping and putting out here," he said. "I can hit 400 putts in a training session. Those are things I wasn't able to do for a very long time."

As for the European Tour, Moynihan will be hoping to outshine top South Africans Louis Oosthuizen, Dylan Fritelli and George Coetzee in Mauritius before he rounds off his year in next week's Joburg Open, knowing that a win worth 191,660 Race to Dubai points would be worth its weight in gold and an exemption until the end of 2018.

  • AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 6.30am
  • Hero World Challenge, Live, Sky Sports Golf, 5.30pm

Irish Independent

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