This has been the story as the Hero World Challenge gets under way at the links-style Albany course here on Thursday.
Albany (The Bahamas): Just 10 minutes into the pre-tournament press conference of the $3.5 million 2017 Hero World Challenge here on Tuesday, FedEx Cup and PGA Championship winner Justin Thomas took a deep breath and sat back in his chair.
“Anybody want to ask about my…,” Thomas said trying to shift the focus on his own game, before being cut short again. Till now, he had only fielded queries on Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf after nine months, and the ensuing question too was on we know who.
This has been the story as the Hero World Challenge gets under way at the links-style Albany course here on Thursday. The tournament has an elite field of 18 — eight are among the world’s top-10 ranked players and also include this year’s three major winners. The strength of the field can be gauged from the fact that all players are ranked in the world’s top-32 except tournament host Woods.
All eyes, however, will inadvertently be on the world no. 1199. He is far from his glory days, has been in news this year largely for personal issues, is recuperating from a serious back injury, last won a tournament in 2013, but the world of golf is waiting — and hoping — for yet another great comeback.
Thomas helped put things in perspective.
“I mean, the same reason that, you know, when Michael Jordan came back to play basketball. When you’re one of the greatest of all time to play your sport and just do things that people can’t and haven’t done before and you just have such a huge fan base… that’s what made it fun to watch.
“Obviously there are a lot of other players, but there’s nobody who moves the needle like him, even now. And if he had 15 wins and two majors, then yeah, people wouldn’t care as much, but he has 79 and 14 majors. I mean, I am probably just as excited to watch it as you are. I just get a front row seat to it on Thursday, but I am also looking forward to trying to kick his ass, to be perfectly honest.”
Woods says he is happy he doesn’t have to use his club as a crutch any more.
“The neatest thing for me is to be able to get up out of bed and I can grab a club and not use it as a crutch, okay? So now I am able to take a swing. That’s so exciting, you have no idea how exciting that is, and I am just so thankful that I have had this procedure and I have gotten to this point,” he says.
For Tiger, expectations will be relatively low. Where he finishes this week may not matter, but what matters is that he is back. The tournament will mark the third time Woods attempts a comeback at the World Challenge. He made a return in 2016 as well, firing as many birdies as eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama before finishing 15th.
This time, he takes on an elite field led by world no. 1 Dustin Johnson, as also the Open championship winner Jordan Spieth, US Open winner Brooks Koepka and PGA Championship winner Thomas.