Punch Shot: What to expect from Woods at Hero

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 27, 2016, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his long-awaited return to competitive golf this week at his Hero World Challenge. What should we expect from the 14-time major champion, who has been sidelined for more than a year? Our writers offer their opinions.


After 15 months of zero golf and somehow even less information, Tiger Woods returns to action this week at the Hero World Challenge with considerably lessened expectations.

Sure, second sucks, always has for the world No. 879. Don’t expect a year on the disabled list or his upcoming 41st birthday to change that reality. But last we saw Woods, he was just coming to terms with a new swing on his way to his lone top-10 finish of 2015 at the Wyndham Championship.

The fact is, after Woods’ 11th-hour withdrawal from last month’s Safeway Open, a measured sign of progress for Tiger will be simply making it to the first tee on Thursday.

From there, at the no-cut, limited-field World Challenge, anything is technically possible, but a better target for Woods after so much time on the bench should probably be remaining upright for 72 holes.

Woods has never played for anything less than trophies in his career and more times than not he’s proven to be up to the challenge, whatever the obstacles. But this time feels different. This event feels like a rehab start.

After everything Woods has been through in recent years, four days with a scorecard in his hand against some of the game’s top players would be a step in the right direction.


I expect to see a proud champion working through feeling “vulnerable.”

I expect to see a player who may be dealing with a lot of nerves, maybe some sort of stage fright, based on his late WD from the Safeway Open last month.

I expect to see a guy who has gotten beaten up by all the uncertainties that come with three back surgeries in 21 months, a guy whose psyche may be more tender than his back. That's based on the nature of that WD and his stating publicly he’s not sure if his career is complete, but he has “reconciled” himself to the fact that it may be.

I also expect some totally unpredictable twist or turn, because there have been so many of them from Tiger Woods these last few years.


We're bracing for the inevitable overreaction, of course, but let's not expect much from Tiger at the Hero. He hasn't had any competitive reps in 15 months. Reports on his health have been minimal. And he obviously has a few mental hurdles to clear.

It should be a fascinating week, from the answers in his first news conference of the year to the golf. A successful week for Woods would be playing all four rounds and finishing somewhere in the top 15 - in other words, beating a handful of elite players.


After nearly 16 months, it's impossible to know for certain, but I think Tiger Woods will be just fine this week at the Hero World Challenge.

Sure, the game will be rusty, and his much-scrutinized short game could show some weakness. But within a controlled environment, on a course he knows well and one where he doesn't have to sweat a cut, Woods will get just what he was looking for all along: a warm-up start.

So I think the week can be considered a success as long as he makes it through the 72 holes without sign of injury or any other "vulnerable" aspect popping up. I think he'll even manage to break par at some point, although the chipping woes that may have played a role in his Safeway WD could prove an issue. He might even beat a pro or two by week's end.

But for once, Woods will be well-served to not look at a leaderboard at Albany. His week will be evaluated by metrics that stretch beyond over or under par.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.