Tiger Woods promises a fresh chapter to golf’s biggest story
Woods was delighted his body held up after completing his first event since undergoing fusion surgery in his ankle at the Hero World Challenge.
From spectacular shots to fantastical finishes, Tiger Woods has been there and done everything possible in a career spanning 15 major wins and over 100 international titles. His achievements are mind-numbing, but he rarely resorts to hyperboles.
So, when he finished 18th in the 20-man Hero World Challenge in Albany with a score of even-par after four days, the last thing you expected from him was to describe his performance as ‘ecstatic’. In fact, the way Woods played, ‘ecstatic’ would be an understatement.
This tournament, won eventually in imperious fashion by world No.1 Scottie Scheffler at 20-under par, was never going to be about Woods’ score, or where he finished. It was all about how his body reacts to the rigours of four days of competitive golf following the latest addition of two steel screws to fuse his subtalar bones in his right ankle.
That battle was won hands down by the man who turns 48 in less than two weeks. He walked well, rarely limped, and mostly managed to execute the shots he wanted to. Those shots may not have been perfect, but it is evident that he is close.
“I was just as curious what this was going to look like. I haven’t done it in a while, I haven’t done it with my ankle the way it is now and I was excited each and every day to kind of get through it and kind of start piecing rounds together again,” said Woods after Sunday’s final round in his traditional red and black, words which would be music to the ears of golf fans.
“Every day I got faster into the round. The first day took me a while to get a handle on it, second day was faster, today was right away.” A critical look at the four rounds would suggest Woods drove the ball beautifully, but surprisingly, his short game wasn’t up to the mark. One would have thought it would be the other way around, but golfers will tell you it takes time to get the feel of the short game back after such a lengthy absence (since the third round of the Masters in April second week).
What Woods was missing was the feel with his irons and short game. It’s a God-given talent for him to be creative and precise with golf shots, but even that needs to be supplemented with blood, sweat and tears on the driving range and Woods hasn’t had that much time. He was rusty, and it showed.
The man himself agreed with the assessment of his game. “I think the best part of the week was the way I drove it, pretty much on a string all week even though these fairways are big. I felt like I had my ball speed up (once recorded at 179mph), which was nice, and I was hitting the middle of the face the entire week, which is also nice,” said Woods, who is expected to ramp up his schedule in 2024 to at least one tournament every month.
“So, it’s not like I have to go and try and find something going into next year. What I’ve been working on is right there and maybe just need to tighten up a little bit.” Woods may have already started thinking of adding to his 82 PGA Tour titles, but on Sunday the tournament host had to be satisfied handing the trophy to Scheffler, who showed a side of his game that fans have rarely seen in the past couple of years when the affable Texan has dominated the sport.
In an amazing 2023, Scheffler has three wins now, and 13 top-five finishes on the PGA Tour. That mark was last breached by Woods and Vijay Singh in 2005. However, it could have been a lot better had his putter cooperated. Through the year, he was No.1 in Shots Gained Total, Shots Gained Off the Tee and Shots Gained Approach to Greens. However, he was a nightmarish 162nd in Strokes Gained Putting.
The 2022 Masters champion has been working with putting guru Phil Kenyon the last few months, and the transformation has been stunning. At the Hero World Challenge, Scheffler improved to 6th in the field and in positive territory at 0.769. No wonder he won comfortably by three shots over Sepp Straka.
Asked about improvement in his putting, Scheffler said: “I think that’s a good assessment. I’m very pleased with my game. I felt like coming into this week I was in a good spot, but I didn’t really know because I hadn’t played much tournament golf.
“I’m very pleased with how I putted, I feel like I rolled it solid. It’s definitely nice to see some early results with the stuff that Phil and I have been working on.” Scheffler plans to start his 2024 season with the Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii. Woods is targeting a return at Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles in February.