Golf: Tiger's true test begins today

Tiger Woods chipping from a bunker ahead of the Hero World Challenge. The world No. 898 will make his competitive return today.
Tiger Woods chipping from a bunker ahead of the Hero World Challenge. The world No. 898 will make his competitive return today.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Woods sounds and looks like his old self, as answers about his golf game will be revealed

NASSAU (The Bahamas) • He sounded, at least in bits and pieces, like Tiger Woods. There were the plugs for his sponsors, the shout-outs to his kids, the inside-golf detours about adjustable shafts and ball-flights.

And there were the usual puffed-chest, sound-byte-quality reminders of his legendary competitiveness.

"I'm going to try to do the same thing I always do," Woods, 40, said at one point. "I'm here. I'm going to try to win this thing."

It may have been comforting, both for Woods himself and the greater golf community, to see the 14-time Major champion back in front of a microphone at a tournament on Tuesday - this time at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas - and sounding more or less like himself.

It had been a long time - 15 months since he had fielded questions ahead of a tournament start.

But as good as Woods sounded, and as confident as he seemed, the real test begins today, when he takes his first competitive swing since August last year.

PLANS TO BE BACK WITH A BANG

I'm going to try to do the same thing I always do. I'm here. I'm going to try to win this thing.

TIGER WOODS, 14-time Major winner, on his goal at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas - his first competitive event since August last year.

Only then will the world begin to know whether Woods can legitimately resume his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record of 18 Major titles.

Woods will begin play, paired with Patrick Reed, as the 898th-ranked player in the world. None of the other 17 players in the field are ranked outside the top 40.

Just by finishing the four-round, no-cut tournament - which is hardly a given, considering his long absence and questions about his health and endurance - Woods would rise some 150 spots.

The former world No. 1 added he wants to compete as long as he can, but quickly amended: "As long as the body will allow me to."

A question about his tournament schedule next year produced a similar answer: "I don't know because I don't know what my back is going to be doing. Would I like to play a full schedule for the next decade-plus? Yeah. But can I? We'll see.

"But after 15 months of not competing, I'm sitting here in front of you guys with a different reality, because things have improved so much that I'm able to come back and do this again. It hasn't been easy. It's taken a lot of work. But I'm here."

Yesterday, Nicklaus gave Woods a word of encouragement by predicting that he can go on to play for another decade.

"I've always thought that he's got at least another 10 years of good competitive golf in front of him if he's healthy and as talented as he is," Nicklaus was quoted as saying by BBC Sport.

Off the golf course, Woods has also benefited from the support he received from his golfing rivals - a situation that was less likely to happen during his glory days, when he mostly kept to himself.

However, he grew nearer to some players during his time as a US assistant captain at the Ryder Cup earlier this year.

"I've missed being out here with the guys. I miss the fraternity. I miss the camaraderie," he said.

"I've had a lot more close friends out here than I thought."

Two-time Masters champion Bubba Watson said: "Tiger is a great man and to see him open up, I think it's for the better.

"I think he's learning that now that we all miss him. We miss the interaction with him, seeing him practise, just listening and learning from him.

"He has got a smile on the face and a bounce in his step. Who cares about the golf?"

WASHINGTON POST, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

HERO WORLD CHALLENGE

Day 1: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 2.30am

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Tiger's true test begins today'. Print Edition | Subscribe