By Mark Lamport-Stokes
(Reuters) – Tiger Woods’ return to competition after an absence of nearly 16 months was a mixed bag, though the former world number one said he had a great week simply competing at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
The roller-coaster nature of his form over the four days at the Albany course on the island of New Providence was sharply illustrated by the fact that he led the elite field with birdies (24) and double-bogeys (six).
While Woods showed flashes of the brilliant golf he produced while accumulating 14 major titles, he also delivered the inept, often finding sandy waste areas off the tee or with approach shots, and occasionally bladed bunker shots over greens.
He sank a few long-range putts but too often was unsteady from inside six feet as he tried to shake off the rust after a lengthy stint on the sidelines due to back-related issues.
“I am just so thankful to be back out here playing again,” Woods told reporters after closing with a four-over 76 on Sunday to finish 15th in a final field of 17.
“I made some birdies this week, and I felt like I did really well in that regard but I also made some really silly mistakes. I played the par-fives, quite frankly, awful.”
In the twilight of his career at age 40, Woods knows that time is not on his side but he intends to play as much tournament golf as he can next year as he strives to work his way back up the world rankings from a mind-boggling 898th.
“The good thing is that because I have been away for so long, everything I do here I keep accruing (ranking) points,” said Woods. “If I play halfway decent, I will keep climbing quickly.”
Former PGA Tour winner Brandel Chamblee, who now works as a Golf Channel analyst, was impressed by Woods’ wedge game from outside 70 yards in the Bahamas but felt his golf swing needed fixing.
“In round number one, you saw him get to the 18th tee, his misses all day had been to the left,” Chamblee said. “So you are going to do everything you can to make sure that the toe doesn’t beat the heel to the golf ball. Tiger Woods would have known that and he couldn’t do it, he couldn’t stop it.
“And yet here he is playing a more conservative route later on in the week off of the 18th tee, not going with the driver, and still not able to find the fairway. He’d miss left, he would miss right.”
Chamblee was also unimpressed by Woods’ chipping, the low point being a chunked chip at the par-five sixth on Sunday which led to a double-bogey.
“Any tour player that tries to hit a wedge off a green is going to take a long swing and make sure that they use the bounce and fully release,” said Chamblee. “The fact that he missed the bounce there is very, very troubling.”
(Writing by Mark Lamport-Stokes in St. Augustine, Florida; Editing by Larry Fine)