Woods last played a competitive round on the first day of the Dubai Classic in February before pulling out.
Albany (The Bahamas): Eldrick Tont “Tiger” Woods is back and the world is watching.
The last few years have seen golf’s greatest star — who has undergone multiple back surgeries — trying to find his mojo and full fitness, and come Thursday, the 2017 Hero World Challenge here will see the “Big Cat” looking to roll back the years as he returns after a nine-month injury layoff.
Woods has been waking up “pain free” for the first time in three years and a lot of talk is around his swing as the 41-year-old played a practice round here on Monday along with reigning PGA Tour player of the year Justin Thomas. Woods last played a competitive round on the first day of the Dubai Classic in February before pulling out.
Said Woods here on a windy Tuesday morning, “I didn’t think it (being pain free) was ever going to happen. I have been struggling for years now and to finally come out of it now, (I) feel very blessed.”
There is a buzz here as eight of the world’s top-10 players prepare to tee off in what will be one of the strongest fields for the Hero World Challenge, an invitational PGA Tour event.
The field for the $3.5 million tournament is led by world no. 1 Dustin Johnson, who spent considerable time at the scenic and challenging Albany course here on Monday afternoon. Along with Johnson, who has held on to the top spot since February 2017 despite suffering from a back injury after a fall, the field includes year’s three major winners — US Open champion Brooks Koepka, the Open Championship winner Jordan Spieth and PGA Championship winner Thomas.
Woods said it was “fantastic to come back” and he was raring to get back to competition.
“The young guys have been great and helped me come back. I played around with DJ and Rickie the other day and I would like to see how good my skills are.
“I would like to say that I am here to win this damn thing, but this is different. It feels different. I don’t know my body yet, I don’t understand fully yet what it can or cannot do.
“The most important thing about my ramping up (in the last one month) is that I was able to play every day. I never felt like that I cannot play golf today, things like these I have been struggling for in the past.”
World no. 3 and defending champion Hideki Matsuyama will be ready to showcase his form of last year in a competition that has winners of 22 major championships — 14 of them by Woods alone — and 12 players who competed at this year’s Presidents Cup in New Jersey. Also in action will be the European Tour’s Race to Dubai winner Tommy Fleetwood and the red-hot Justin Rose, the 2016 Rio Olympics gold medallist.
And then there are Rickie Fowler, Henrik Stenson, Matt Kuchar and Kevin Kisner, all winners on the PGA Tour this year.
The World Challenge is a four-round, stroke-play event with a $3.5 million purse, a $1 million winner’s prize and official world golf rankings points awarded.
The field (with official world golf ranking): Dustin Johnson (1, USA), Jordan Spieth (2, USA), Justin Thomas (3, USA), Hideki Matsuyama (5, Japan), Justin Rose (6, England), Brooks Koepka (7, USA), Rickie Fowler (8, USA), Henrik Stenson (9, Sweden), Matt Kuchar (15, USA), Alex Noren (17, Sweden), Tommy Fleetwood (18, England), Francesco Molinari (21, Italy), Patrick Reed (23, USA), Kevin Kisner (25, USA), Charley Hoffman (27, USA), Daniel Berger (28, USA, special exemption), Kevin Chappell (32, USA), Tiger Woods (1193, USA, special exemption).