The day is finally here: Tiger Woods has returned to the golf course after taking an injury induced 16 month sabbatical. After withdrawing from the Safeway Open and Turkish Airways Open, Tiger finally made his first playing appearance at the Hero World Challenge. Fittingly, “The Big Cat” serves as the tournament's official host with the proceeds benefitting the Tiger Woods Foundation. Going into the tournament, Tiger has said that his game is ready for competition and that he’s excited to get back out there. He also said how he was nervous for his first tee shot in over a year.
Tiger’s round was the story of two separate 9-hole rounds. We’ll start with the good. Tiger began his round by finding the left rough. He hacked his ball out of the rough and onto the green for a nice par save. On the par 5 third, Tiger crushed his new Taylormade M2 driver down the middle of the fairway. His second shot into the green was downwind causing the ball to sail over the green. Tiger made a phenomenal chip within a few feet for his first birdie of the day. Tiger then rattled off 3 straight birdies starting on the par 5 sixth to get to a tie for the lead at -4. On the par 3 eighth, Tiger hit a 6 iron that road the wind and landed a couple feet from the hole for a nice birdie.
On his last hole on the front 9, Tiger had a difficult chip, which he caught a little fat. The ball landed short of the green and rolled back to his feet. This was a tough shot, so I do not really think this was a case of the yips. Bermuda grass can create some very difficult lies even for the best in the world.
Tiger’s round would continue to tumble on the backside. Tiger failed to take advantage on the second consecutive par 5. Woods made a bogey after he found trouble with the driver. Woods would finish the last 3 holes of his round at a +4 mark. Not good. On 18, Tiger again missed left with his new driver. This time he found the water. The 18th hole is not long, meaning that Tiger really did not need to hit driver. I guess it was worth the risk given that Tiger just needs to get used to taking risks under the stress of competition. Tiger’s bogey putt just missed leaving Woods at +1 for the tournament.
Now for the grades:
Driver: Tiger’s good drives were going right down the middle over 300 yards, which is great. The bad tee shots were all missing to the left. This is not horrible because a one-way miss is not hard to fix and/or play with. When you’re missing left and right, you’ve got some problems. Before his tee shot on 18, I would have given Tiger a B-, but after that water ball, C+.
Irons: Easily the strength of Tiger's day was his play with the irons. From the first hole, Tiger’s irons were on. He hit a great shot on the first hole from the rough onto the green. Later on the par 3 12th after Patrick Reed hit his tee shot into the water, Tiger stuck his approach to inside 12 feet. Grade A.
Wedges: Tiger hit some great chips and pitches to set up birdies and pars. Unfortunately he did have that chunk on number 9. Overall, B, but good progress.
Putting: I might be wrong here but I do not think Tiger had a 3 putt. Tiger has decided to put his custom Scotty Cameron that won 13 majors back into his bag. Clearly it is paying instant dividends as Tiger looks very comfortable with the flat stick, especially on the short 5 foot putts. Grade A.
Overall: I’d give Tiger’s round a B. The big takeaways are that he looked healthy and he showed that his game has a lot of potential for the rest of the weekend and into next year. What I’d like to see for the rest of the weekend is a few rounds under par. Tiger shot a +1, 73 today but he left a lot of shots on the golf course. With a little work on the range specifically with the driver, this is a very realistic goal.
Stay tuned for more Tiger related coverage this weekend! It’s great having Tiger back.