Hero World Challenge: What we learned

By Tyler Olson

Hero Tiger 2Tiger Woods made his much-anticipated return last weekend at his own tournament, The Hero World Challenge, and didn’t actually do too bad.  He completed all four rounds- not a small accomplishment given his past- and although he finished towards the bottom of the eighteen-man field  there were more than a few good signs in there.

Stretches of good golf:

            Early Thursday afternoon could only be described as the apocalypse for golf Twitter.   If Tiger had everyone’s curiosity when he birdied the third and had yet to make a major mistake through the fifth hole, he certainly grabbed everyone’s attention after stringing together birdies on six, seven, and eight to be tie for the lead at -4.  The Tiger of old was back and everyone was losing their minds.  Memes and gifs left and right. “Eighteen majors, here we come!” was the prevailing wisdom.

Woods then shot a cool +5 on the next ten holes to turn in a marginal 73.

Despite the mishap on Thursday’s back nine, Woods rallied with a bogey-free 65 on Friday and a 32 on the front on Saturday that included five birdies.  After playing well for that stint, Woods was two over on Saturday’s back nine and made a mess of the course on Sunday for a 76 that landed him in fifteenth place.

While many obviously hoped 2001 Tiger would magically appear on their television screens and vanquish the field full of top-ranked foes, expecting that after a sixteen-month layoff from pro golf is simply unreasonable. This tournament, with neither a cut line nor a full field, was merely a tune-up for Woods as he is focuses on the coming PGA Tour season and the majors, starting with the Masters in April.

Tiger played what amounts to thirty-six holes of great golf with a little bit of rust thrown in-between.  Woods made it very clear that he was happy with his performance and as he gets more reps, that rust should shake off with no problem.

Tiger_hero 1   “I need to play more tournaments,” said the fourteen-time major champion. “Zero in 15 months is not a lot, so this is one. I thought I made some good, positive things happen this week. Made a lot of birdies, also made a lot of mistakes. That’s something I know I can clean up.”

Other players also had total faith that Woods would back contending for trophies soon enough.

“Give him three or four tournaments, maybe six tournaments, maybe around the Masters. It’s easy to overanalyze a very limited amount of golf,” said Henrik Stenson, who finished second, just two strokes back of winner, Hideki Matsuyama.

Tiger’s Health

He looked good.  Tiger was ripping drivers at full force with recoil all week; not exactly something someone who is worried about back health is prone to do. Woods even believed he was healthy enough to come back and play back before he dropped out of the Safeway Open, but that his game was not in the place that he wanted it to be before he came back to playing on the PGA Tour. Given those pieces of evidence, it’s clear that Tiger’s long wait before coming back (pun intended) paid off. His health is a moot point until any evidence on the course or coming from Tiger himself suggests otherwise.

Hideki

Hideki Hidden in all the Tiger-mania this weekend was the fact that Hideki Matsuyama absolutely had his way with the course at Albany. After Saturday, it looked like he had a chance to win this tournament, with its hand-selected field of the top golfers in the world, by double digits. His 73 on Sunday and a 68 by British Open champion, Henrik Stenson, made for just a two-stroke margin of victory. Still nothing to sneeze at.

Now the victor in four of his last five starts, if you’re planning on placing Masters bets early, look no further than Matsuyama.

Predictions

                Tiger finished fifteenth out of eighteen this week, which was in line with our Twitter followers’ votes on our prediction poll. Out of the four options: Win, top half of the field, low half of the field, and injury WD/ 10+ over par, the plurality selected bottom half. So, good job there, guys.

I was incorrect with my prediction; in last week’s article I had Tiger finishing in the top nine. I simply underestimated the rust he would have. While the bouts of great golf that he put together weren’t surprising, I positively did not expect that Tiger freaking Woods would double-bogey the final hole on both Saturday and Sunday. But alas, that happened.

Where will we see Tiger next?

                Woods wants some live tournament experience so his game is on point come Masters time, so it’s time to speculate where we will see Big Cat play his next tune up event. The early-season events in California, especially in Torrey Pines would be a good bet, although his agent has alluded that he may make the trip across the Atlantic to play in the European Tour events in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, where Rory McIlroy usually gets his golf season underway.

Fingers crossed Woods doesn’t get injured before then.

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