I have two confident predictions for Tiger Woods’ return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge on Thursday.
First, Tiger will easily post a top-18 finish, providing his back allows him to play all four rounds. (The reason for my high confidence is that there are only 18 players in the select field.)
Second, at some point Tiger will go low, making the Albany Course in the Bahamas look like a resort track. (That’s because 26-under won there last year for Bubba Watson and there were only rounds above par for the entire field all week long. )
Let’s face it. This is the perfect tournament for Tiger to make some birdies and build a little confidence in his return to golf after 15 months on the shelf because of back problems.
The Golf Channel will televise it all on Thursday and Friday with help from NBC on the Saturday and Sunday rounds. Tiger goes off at noon on Thursday with Patrick Reed as his playing partner. Good, bad or indifferent, everybody will by eager to get a look at the 14-time major champion. That’s Tiger, in case you have gone to sleep on the game in his absence, and not Reed.
It’s a great field, featuring Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and more. Tiger gets in as tournament host with proceeds going to his foundation. Going by the Official World Golf Rankings alone, he wouldn’t belong inside the ropes. Tiger is 898th on a list that he once led for an astounding total of 683 weeks.
World No. 1 Jason Day isn’t in the tournament. He’s still enjoying his offseason and apparently doesn’t feel he needs the $1 million in unofficial money that goes to the winner. Doesn’t much need the points, either, though the Hero World Challenge does award world points.
Golf Digest reports that Tiger could climb about 150 spots on that list simply by finishing the tournament. That’s because of the elite nature of the competition.
Overall, this no-cut event is much better for Tiger’s return than grinding through the Safeway Open in October. That was his original plan but he withdrew prior to the tournament, not feeling quite ready for prime-time.
Brendan Steele won the Safeway title in Napa, Calif., with an 18-under total of 270. The field was so strong that Phil Mickelson shot rounds of 69-69-69-67 and tied for eighth place. Meanwhile, notables like Matt Kuchar, Hunter Mahan and 2014 Honda Classic champion Russell Henley missed the cut altogether.
If Tiger had missed the cut in his first event back, just like he missed the cut at four of his last five majors, that would have been a severe psychological blow.
Anyway, I’m guessing they’ll have the tournament on at Tiger’s restaurant in Jupiter if you’re looking to share the experience with others who care deeply about the results.
If you’re simply interested in the full-on PGA Tour, the next stop on that schedule is the Tournament of Champions from Hawaii, January 5-8.
No need to be smug, though. Everybody cares about how Tiger does. Everybody on tour. Everybody who plays or enjoys golf.