Tiger one day away from return, but answers will wait

By Will GrayNovember 30, 2016, 8:47 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – The stage has been cleared.

The conjecture and the false starts are a thing of the past. Finally, after nearly 16 arduous months of waiting, Tiger Woods is ready to once again walk inside the ropes on the PGA Tour.

It’s a statement that Tour pros as well as golf fans at large have embraced this week. Woods, approaching his 41st birthday, is a welcome sight on tournament grounds regardless of the state of his game.

“He’s still just turning every head when he walks into the dining area,” Jordan Spieth said. “Or if he’s on the driving range, I mean everybody’s looking up to see him hit some shots.”

Yes, Woods is back. But the state of his game is perhaps the most coveted information in the sport. The ensuing four days will provide a glimpse, even if they won’t tell the full story.

Questions that once focused on his health, or even if he would return to competition, have now shifted to what version of Woods we will see in the debut of what he described Tuesday as “Phase 2” of his career.

“I felt good with pretty much everything,” Woods said Wednesday. “I was able to hit all the shots I needed to hit.”

Sure, some feedback will be gleaned. His swing will inevitably be dissected from all angles, and the short game that bogged him down so often last year will be on full display, for better or worse.

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And given such a small sample size, dangerous levels of extrapolation are sure to follow. Every made birdie will mean a 15th major is a fait accompli; every flubbed chip will lead others to question if his career has run its course.

It’s hardly a fair scenario, but such is life when you’re Tiger Woods.

Woods was a marvel of control when at his peak, and he has flexed that trait once again in making his long-anticipated return. The Hero World Challenge is as close to golf in a bubble as you can get on Tour – an isolated location with few media and even fewer fans.

It’s a tournament he runs on a course he knows well, and it’s a limited field in which he feels comfortable and doesn’t have to sweat a cut. None of those factors were in play last month at the Safeway Open, from which he withdrew.

But despite the hopes of even the most ardent fans or naysayers, 72 holes in a controlled environment won’t tell the whole tale. Instead, it’s the first step in a journey that will likely feature a few more.

“I think he’s accepted the fact that he’ll be patient,” Spieth said. “But like anybody that takes off a year and a half for injury or whatever other reasons, you don’t just come back and expect anything. It’s going to take a little time.”

Prognostications about next year’s schedule, or focus over Woods’ future fate in majors, will have to wait. Woods’ latest and most-discussed comeback will likely be an incremental build, one that could take still more time to fully develop.

Former New York Yankee star Derek Jeter played in the pro-am group behind Woods on Wednesday, and the two have shared several casual rounds together. Like Woods, Jeter missed a long stretch of playing time in 2012-13 that led to a few stops and starts along the comeback trail.

“I can’t speak on him and what he’s feeling, but for me,” Jeter said, “you come back and you’re told you’re healthy, but you’ve still got to get out there and experience different things before you’re really sure. So yeah, there’s some uncertainty there, at least there was for me.”

For his part, Woods has checked off all the boxes. For once in his career he has taken the deliberate path to injury recovery, and he now claims a full bill of health. He has bided his time, surveying his options for a possible return, and chosen carefully.

He even put on a strong display during the pro-am, with a pair of par-5 eagles to go along with a handful of up-and-downs that belied a man with any short-game woes.

“I’ll be focused,” Woods said of Thursday’s opening round. “I’ll be ready.”

Fifteen months is a long time to wait on a legend. But now he’ll start to provide some answers, even if the biggest riddles can’t be solved by a few rounds in the Bahamas. 

Day, Spieth chasing Davis after Day 1 of Aussie Open

By Jason CrookNovember 23, 2017, 6:50 am

The PGA Tour is off this week but a couple of the circuit’s biggest stars – Jordan Spieth and Jason Day – are headlining the Emirates Australian Open, the first event in The Open Qualifying Series for the 2018 Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things look after the opening round, where Cameron Davis has opened up a two-shot lead:

Leaderboard: Cameron Davis (-8), Taylor MacDonald (-6), Nick Cullen (-5), Jason Day (-5), Brian Campbell (-4), Lucas Herbert (-4), Stephen Leaney (-4), Anthony Quayle (-4)

What it means: Jordan Spieth has won this event three of the last four years, including last year, but he got off to a rocky start on Thursday. Playing in the windy afternoon wave, the world No. 2 bogeyed his first two holes but rebounded with birdies on Nos. 4 and 5. It was more of the same the rest of the way as the 24-year-old carded three more bogeys and four birdies, getting into the clubhouse with a 1-under 70. While it certainly wasn't the start he was hoping for, Spieth didn't shoot himself out of the tournament with 54 holes left to play, he has plenty of time to claw his way up the leaderboard.

Round of the day: With Round 1 in the books, the solo leader, Davis, is the easy pick here. The 22-year-old Aussie who turned pro last year, came out of the gates on fire, birdieing six of his first seven holes, including four in a row on Nos. 4 through 7. He did drop a shot on the ninth hole to go out in 30 but rebounded with three more birdies on the back to card a 8-under 63. Davis, who was born in Sydney and played this year on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada. He will attempt to get his Web.com Tour card next month during qualifying in Arizona.

Best of the rest: Making his first start in his home country in four years, Day started on the 10th hole at The Australian Golf Club and made four birdies to one bogey on the back side before adding four more circles after making the turn. Unfortunately for the 30-year-old, he also added an ugly double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole and had to settle for a 5-under 66, good enough to sit T-3. Day, who has dropped to No. 12 in the world rankings, is looking for his first win on any tour since the 2016 Players Championship.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Can the upstart 22-year-old Davis hold off the star power chasing him or will he fold to the pressure of major champions in his rearview mirror? Day (afternoon) and Spieth (morning) are once again on opposite ends of the draw on Friday as they try to improve their position before the weekend.

Shot of the day: It’s tough to beat an ace in this category, and we had one of those on Thursday from Australian Brad Shilton. Shilton’s hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole came with a special prize, a $16k watch.

Quote of the day: “Just two bad holes. Pretty much just two bad swings for the day,” – Day, after his 66 on Thursday. 

Watch: Shilton wins $16k timepiece with hole-in-one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 23, 2017, 2:50 am

Australian Brad Shilton made a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole during the first round of the Australian Open, and he was rewarded handsomely for his efforts - with a Tag Heuer watch worth $16k.

Day gets in early mix with 66 in return to Australia

By Associated PressNovember 23, 2017, 2:32 am

SYDNEY - Jason Day's first tournament round in Australia in four years was a 5-under 66 to put him among the leaders early Thursday at the Australian Open.

Day's round came unhinged late with a double-bogey 6 on the par-4 eighth hole, his second-last of the day. He hit his tee shot into the trees on the left, hit back out to the fairway, missed his approach to the green and then couldn't get up and down.

''That was brutal,'' Day said of the 481-yard hole that played into gusting winds.

But Day recovered quickly to birdie his last to sit three strokes behind fellow Australian and early leader Cameron Davis, who started on the first, had six front-nine birdies and shot 63 at The Australian Golf Club.

In between the two was Australian Taylor MacDonald, who shot 65.

''It was a pretty solid round, I didn't miss many fairways, I didn't miss many greens,'' Day said. ''I'd give myself a seven or eight out of 10.''

Defending champion Jordan Spieth, attempting to win the Australian Open for the third time in four years, was off to a poor start among the afternoon players, bogeying his first two holes.

The Sydney-born Davis played most of this season on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada and will attempt to secure his Web.com card in the final round of qualifying from Dec. 7-10 in Chandler, Arizona.

''Everything went to plan,'' Davis said. ''I got off to a great start. I was hitting my spots and was able to keep it together on the back nine.''

NOTES: Australian Brad Shilton had the first ace of the tournament, using a 5-iron for a hole-in-one on the par-3, 188-yard 11th hole, his second hole of the day. Australian veteran Geoff Ogilvy, the 2006 U.S. Open winner, shot 69. He and Rod Pampling (68) played the first round with Day.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."