Saturday 21 July 2018

Rusty Tiger predicts 'bright future' after pain-free comeback

Tiger Woods with winner Rickie Fowler after the final round of the Hero World Challenge tournament at Albany. Photo credit: Kyle Terada USA TODAY Sports
Tiger Woods with winner Rickie Fowler after the final round of the Hero World Challenge tournament at Albany. Photo credit: Kyle Terada USA TODAY Sports

James Corrigan

Tiger Woods declared that he had "a bright future" after finishing in a tie for ninth in his first tournament in 10 months. And that is as much, if not more, as the game of golf could have hoped for.

Granted, the Hero World Challenge featured only 18 players and the Bahamas dollar-fest is as close as there is to an exhibition event on the PGA Tour schedule.

But Woods' display in reaching eight-under to beat the likes of world No 1 Dustin Johnson was so much more than an end-of-season hit-and-giggle.

Only a few months ago, the 41-year-old wondered whether he would ever play again and even though the spinal-fusion operation was a huge success, leaving him pain-free for the first time in years, Woods set out at Albany last Thursday full of trepidation.

"How was my scoring going to be? How was my feel? How am I going to get used to the adrenaline in my system for the first time in a while?" Woods said.

"I was still scratchy with my irons; I drove it pretty good, made some good putts. Overall, I'm very pleased. I showed some good signs; I hit some really good shots out there. A bright future."

His closing 68 - after the disappointing 75 on Saturday - summed up his week.

Woods went out in a five-under-par 31, but then suffered a double-bogey on the 10th to extinguish any lingering hope of victory.

Birdies on the 11th, 14th and 15th gave him the chance of a top-five placing, before bogeys on the last two took away some of the tinsel from the round.

However, that was not about to mar his return. Inevitably, Woods was rusty, but he proved that he has the flexibility and ability to keep up with the world's best on the distance charts and, indeed, on the scoreboard.

Now, the speculation will start as to where the game will see him next. Torrey Pines is probably favourite for the Farmers Insurance Open at the end of next month, although, as ever, Woods is being guarded. Sponsors will be desperate for his presence.

"We're going to sit down, try to figure out the best way to build my schedule for the Majors," Woods said. "Play enough, but don't play too much."

Meanwhile, a golf tournament actually came to its conclusion and Rickie Fowler should be applauded for at least taking some of the focus off Woods.

The American, remarkably, birdied the first seven holes, and after parring the eighth, birdied the ninth as well to go out in 28.

Having started seven behind, the 28-year-old found himself in the lead by the turn and then went chasing the magic 59.

After birdieing the 15th, Fowler needed to pick up two more in the last three holes, but in the event had to be content with a 61 for 18-under to beat Charley Hoffman by four shots.

Overnight leader Hoffman lost his five-shot advantage and his hopes of victory disappeared with a round of 72.

Memorable

Hoffman finished with nine successive pars to claim second place four shots behind Fowler and two ahead of England's Tommy Fleetwood and Jordan Spieth, who shot 67 and 69 respectively.

Fleetwood's effort capped a memorable year for the Englishman, who won the European Tour's order of merit.

He will remain in the Bahamas to marry his fiancée, Clare, tomorrow.

Justin Rose ended his tournament with a two-under-par 70 to claim a share of fifth place along with Hideki Matsuyama and Patrick Reed on 11-under.

Woods and compatriot Matt Kuchar tied in ninth place behind Italy's Francesco Molinari. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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