Thursday 18 January 2018

Woods insists he has 'way to go' in comeback despite further evidence of old Tiger magic

A delighted Tiger Woods walks off of the 18th green after finishing his second round. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
A delighted Tiger Woods walks off of the 18th green after finishing his second round. Photo: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Corrigan

For a blessed spell on the Albany course, it was 2007 all over again. Tiger Woods was out on his own on top of the leaderboard and the watching world was open-mouthed. Of all his comebacks this is already his most remarkable.

Yes, there was a few late bogeys in his 68 for a seven-under total to take away a touch of the sparkle, but surely only the Grinch would put a downer on this resurrection.

After all, this is his first competitive round in 10 months, following a spinal-fusion operation which was basically a make-or-break on his career.

Add this rust to ridicule he suffered when being found slumped across his steering wheel in May, out of his mind on prescription drugs, and then you may approximate the scale of his achievement so far at the Hero World Challenge.

This was his ninth round in 27 months and, after all he has been through, it must be doubted if many other of the game's legends would have been similarly capable.

He is ranked 1,199th in the world and is more than holding his own in a field boasting eight of the world's top 10. Typical Tiger, however, was refusing to get carried away.

"After a 31 on the front nine I could have done better on the back nine," he said. "I struggled with the speed all day on the greens.

"But I've proved the surgery has been successful, the rehab has been fantastic, and now I have the chance to play golf again. I'm just getting back, though, and have a way to go."

Before Thursday's round, he had Steph Curry and Michael Phelps taking to social media to describe their excitement.

This time it was Donovan Bailey, the former 100m world champion, and Niall Horan of One Direction fame, expressing their feverish enthusiasm.

Even for Woods this seemed surreal. Granted, the Hero World Challenge is essentially an end-of-season hit-and-giggle in which the lucky invitees get to fight it out for the honour of a $1 million winning cheque none of them really need. But it boasts the best and the best do not appreciate losing.

If the 41-year-old had stirred the memory bank with his first-round 69, then with three birdies in his first four holes, he made all the high-points of his career suddenly pour over back into the consciousness.

And all the while, he was driving it in the style one of the celebrated young generation - long, straight.

It was on the par-five ninth where vintage Tiger leapt up and said "Remember me?" The three-wood to 18ft set up the eagle putt and, inevitably, the fist pump. At eight-under he was in the outright lead.

Yet perhaps the most satisfying factor for Woods was his chipping. In the first round there had been two "chunks" and the cynics had rolled their eyes and made the point that before his back completely cut out, Woods had been plagued by the chipping yips.

On the 10th, there was a notable effort to a few feet and on the par-five 11th, after missing the green, his chip was exquisitely played to take him to nine-under.

Woods played a wonderful par-saving pitch on the 17th, but a wayward drive on the 18th resulted in a five. No matter. It had been another stunning day.

Meanwhile, Michael Hoey missed the cut in the Australian PGA, while both Gavin Moynihan and Darren Clarke missed out in Mauritius.

Hoey carded a second successive 75 at RACV Royal Pines in Queensland to miss out by seven shots on six-over par.

Australians Marc Leishman and Adam Bland lead by two strokes on 12-under from compatriot Greg Chalmers.

In the Mauritius Open, Moynihan added a four-over 75 to his opening 71 to miss the one-under-par cut by five strokes.

Arjun Atwal shot 70 to lead by a shot from South Africans Dylan Frittelli and Louis de Jaeger and England's Laurie Canter on 10-under.

At the 90-hole LPGA Qualifying School in Florida, Stephanie Meadow is struggling to make the 72-hole cut after a third round 73 left her tied 76th on five-over. The top 20 earn cards. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open

Live, Sky Sports Golf, 8.30am

Hero World Challenge

Live, Sky Sports Golf , 5.0pm

Telegraph.co.uk

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