The most hyped round of golf in recent memory exceeded expectations at the Hero World Challenge with Tiger Woods delivering a 3-under 69 to be T8 in The Bahamas.
Glorified exhibition or not, Woods’ golf was more impressive than most hoped with his tee-to-green game a highlight.
Two chunked chip shots were the only real lowlight but on the grainy Bermuda grass of the Albany course Woods wasn’t the only one to struggle around the greens.
Almost 10 months since playing his last tournament round the 41-year-old and his surgically repaired back held up more than adequately in the elite 18 player field, the former World Number One clearly pleased with his performance.
“I thought I did great,” Woods told Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis after signing his card.
“I hadn’t played in a while after some of the difficulties I’ve been thorough. To go out here and just score like I did that was nice.
“It was fun to get out there and actually be part of a scorecard again.”
Woods’ round featured a little bit of everything but considering a fourth back surgery in April and the long break from the top level of the game it was impressive to say the least.
There was no suggestion the 14-time major was protecting his back, the definitive statement on that issue coming at the short par-4 7th.
Playing just longer than 300 metres, Woods took an almighty cut at his ball and flew it into a greenside bunker, the recoil at the end of his swing testament to how hard he had gone at it.
The highlights were many and included a ripped 240 metre 2-iron into the par-5 third to set up a birdie followed by a 20-foot putt to save par at the next.
260 yards. 2-iron.November 30, 2017
A 20-foot birdie at the 8th and a stiffed short iron at the 14th also had the crowds and commentators in raptures.
“Dude, 265, 2-iron and I just put this thing on a rope,” he said of his approach to the third.
“That felt good.”
Recalling the approach to 14 also brought a smile. “This was fun. 95 yards, just a little pitching wedge and flighted it nicely.”
The lowlights included chunked chips at both the fourth and ninth, the latter leading to a frustrating bogey, and a wild drive at the par-5 15th which forced him to take a drop for an unplayable lie and led to a second par-5 bogey of the round.
But it was his distance off the tee and the freedom of his swing that stood out and even though the Albany course is hardly a testing tournament venue to sign for his second round in the 60s since the 2015 Wyndham Championship is cause for legitimate celebration.
“I didn’t know what I could do,” Woods said of his own expectations leading into the week.
“I’ve been playing golf, I’ve played a lot of holes at home but it’s still different when you’ve got to tee it up in a tournament.
“I had a lot of adrenaline going there, I was hitting the ball a little longer than I normally do.
“I had to dial it back a little bit but those are the internal struggles I just haven’t been through as a player in a while.”
As expected Woods’ play overshadowed that of the rest of the field including leader Tommy Fleetwood.
The Englishman made a gutsy par putt from six feet at the final hole to remain bogey free in his 6-under 66 in his first appearance at the tournament.
The European Tour Race to Dubai winner is one ahead of Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar with Justin Rose, Dustin Johnson, Kevin Chappell and Jordan Spieth all a shot further back.
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