Punch Shot: What to expect from Woods at Hero

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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.

By REX HOGGARD

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.


By RANDALL MELL

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.



By RYAN LAVNER

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.


By WILL GRAY

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.