Hero comeback a success for healthy Woods

By Rex HoggardDecember 3, 2017, 10:00 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – Decked out in his signature red and black and replete with a confidence that transcended his spot on the leaderboard, Tiger Woods offered a wry smile as he made his way to Sunday’s award ceremony at the Hero World Challenge.

He’s wasn’t a winner, but he was far from a ceremonial golfer, which was the fear held by some following his fourth back procedure in April.

When scorecards are reviewed years from now it will be that opening-nine 40 on Saturday that derailed any chance for the Cinderella story that will stand out, but it wasn’t that windswept effort on Day 3, or even his spirtied finish on Sunday, that provided the final snapshot of Woods’ first start in 301 days.

His tie for ninth place at Albany, a full 10 shots behind champion Rickie Fowler, tells only a fraction of the tale. For four days, Woods drove the ball as well as he has in a decade, putted better than his final statistics might suggest and largely controlled his golf ball with the notable exception of his opening loop on Saturday.

“This is the way I've been playing at home and when I came out here and played, I was playing very similar to this. Not quite hitting it as far, but I had the adrenaline going and overall I'm very pleased,” Woods said following a final-round 68.

It was well documented that Woods’ short game wasn’t exactly in midseason form, but then the rust from 10 months of competitive inactivity would always manifest itself within the blades of Albany’s grainy Bermuda grass collection areas. He also didn’t appear entirely comfortable playing shots into right-to-left gusts, but that’s nothing a few more trips around a tournament course can’t cure.

No, what mattered on Sunday was the same thing that was crucial on Monday when he set out on his 10th professional comeback following a break of 10 weeks or more – the long-term prognosis.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how was the pain?

The response, however anecdotal, came early on Sunday as Woods bounded off the first tee to catch up with playing partner Justin Thomas. It wasn’t that long ago when prolonged periods of sitting were unheard of because of the discomfort and pain it caused. That he’s now able to throttle a 3-iron with the force of a man half his age was the essence of his Bahamas experiment.

Last year when he finished 15th at the Hero World Challenge there was a general air of optimism after a similar injury-induced layoff, but that comeback lasted just three more competitive rounds before he went back on the disabled list. This iteration feels different, for an assortment of reasons, but mostly because of that favorable bill of health.


Hero World Challenge: Articles, photos and video

Full-field scores from the Hero World Challenge


Woods played nine consecutive days before teeing off for Thursday’s opening frame, a self-imposed endurance test to prove to himself he was ready.

His surgeon had given him the green light to begin golf activities, his trainer had provided additional moral and physical support, but he needed to see for himself if his body, broken and battered for so long, could answer the call.

“I'm excited the way this week has gone,” said Woods, whose relaxed demeanor matched his dramatically improved quality of life. “I’m excited with not only the competitive rounds but also all the functions at night. I still got my training in. It was a very good week.”

There was no false hope, no bravado, no excuses, just an honest assessment of his game, a game that had more unknowns before this week’s member-member than the College Football Playoff selection process.

From an objectively competitive point of view, the current generation of stars who have largely never played against Woods at his best have no interest in slowing down – Fowler did, after all, birdie eight of his first nine holes on Sunday on his way to victory – but there’s no shelf life on talent and anyone who doesn’t believe in Woods’ desire wasn’t paying attention.

The answers Woods needed couldn’t be found in an MRI machine or back at home in South Florida playing “friendlies” at Medalist. Those truths could only be discovered on the physical scorecard that 72 holes of tournament golf can provide.

“No doubt about it,” Patrick Reed said when asked if the happy host could win in 2018. “Just hopefully he’s not winning any of the events I’m playing because I plan on beating him every week. It’s awesome to see him back playing well. What I saw on Monday when we played a practice round was effortless power.”

Woods largely stayed on message throughout the week, making numerous references to “coming out on the good side” of what has been a trying year that began with his withdrawal from the Dubai Desert Classic after just one round in February which led to the surgeon’s table and eventually a messy arrest for DUI on Memorial Day.

We may never truly know the physical and mental toll 2017 had on the 14-time major champion, but if the smile etched into Woods’ face as he presented the champion’s hardware to Fowler was any indication, there was no better tonic than what was, by all accounts, a successful rehab start.

It will be seven weeks before Woods’ next presumed start at the Farmers Insurance Open in January. Time to reflect, time to refine and, most importantly, time to reassess what’s possible with a clean bill of health.

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.

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Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.


Full-field scores from the Joburg Open


Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm

Sharma among three Open qualifiers at Joburg Open

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:16 pm

Shubhankar Sharma earned his first career European Tour win at the rain-delayed Joburg Open and punched his ticket to The Open in the process.

Sharma returned to Randpark Golf Club Monday morning after storms washed out much of the scheduled final day of play. Beginning the re-start with a four-shot lead, he hung on to win by three over South Africa's Erik Van Rooyen.

Both men can make travel plans for Carnoustie next summer, as this was the second event in the Open Qualifying Series with three spots available for players not otherwise exempt who finished inside the top 10. The final spot went to Shaun Norris, who tied for third with Finland's Tapio Pulkkanen but had a higher world ranking (No. 192) than Pulkkanen (No. 197) entering the week.

The Joburg Open was the final official European Tour event of the year. The next tournament in the Open Qualifying Series will be the SMBC Singapore Open in January, where four spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs.