All aboard the Tiger coaster
December 03, 2016
By Ben Everill, PGATOUR.COM
- Tiger started Round 3 with four birdies in his first five holes at the Hero World Challenge on Saturday. (Stan Badz/PGA TOUR)
NASSAU, Bahamas – Tiger Woods always provides one great ride.
If you can’t handle the ups and downs and twists and turns of a rollercoaster - then Woods’ comeback might not be for you – but you’d be missing out.
There is no doubt Woods remains one of the biggest stars in world of golf.
Whether you love him or not, he has everyone talking. And the extremes from either side of the fence are intense in today’s social media driven world.
After five holes of Saturday’s third round at the Hero World Challenge people were lining up to anoint Woods the 2017 Masters champion.
Coming off a bogey-free 7-under 65 on Friday Woods had four quick birdies, including a hole out from the sand, and he was surging up the Albany leaderboard.
MUST SEE Tiger Woods at Hero World Challenge
Delirious fans were proclaiming the second coming as their man looked anything but a guy who had spent nearly 16 months out of the game.
“I got off to a good start. Probably couldn't get off to a better start than I did,” Woods admitted.
And then there was the first reality check. He is human and not a machine, even though we have countless career highlights that may contradict this notion.
Despite two cracking shots down the par-5 6th an average wedge approach and then a clumsy three-putt from 40-feet produced a bogey.
He bounced back to birdie the short 7th and made another at 11 and once again they were dancing in the streets as Woods sat in a tie for third place.
Second reality check.
After hitting six of his first eight fairways off the tee the 79-time PGA TOUR winner lost his accuracy with the driver.
To be fair the wind was up on Saturday and – in case it has been forgotten – Woods hasn’t played competitive golf in nearly 16 months and has now had three back surgeries.
Missed fairways at 13 and 14 and a cooling putter contributed to back-to-back bogeys and then further misses off the tee on 15 and 16 meant grinding pars.
“I didn't hit the ball that poorly today, but hit bad putts in the middle part of the round,” Woods claimed.
Now the naysayers were coming out of the woodwork. His time has passed they said. Maybe time for retirement they ridiculously claimed.
A trademark 35-foot birdie putt and fist pump on 17 had them peeling back towards the shadows.
Bring on Augusta his fans exalted once more.
Tiger Woods finds the cup from 35 feet at Hero World Challenge
On to the 18th and Woods missed the fairway right, his fifth missed fairway in a row and then he compounded the error by missing his approach left… into the water.
A double bogey finish for a 2-under 70, leaving the 14-time major winner 10th of 17 players at 8-under.
Mid-field. Leaving both sides of the Tiger divide with some ammunition.
Tiger himself was a little disappointed with the round – but that in itself is a positive given it was ultimately under par.
In his last season on the PGA TOUR in 2015 - 17 of his 32 rounds were over par with three of those in the 80s.
The real reality – Woods’ return has been a colossal success thus far.
Yes, there have been three double bogeys in three rounds and some uncharacteristic errors.
Call it rust. Call it stamina. Only two of his 11 dropped shots have come on the front nine at Albany.
“I've got off to some really good starts the first three days and generally when I come back from layoffs, that's the most concerning part of the game is getting off to I guess halfway decent starts,” Woods said.
“But I've been into the round early and I've been able to build a significant amount of positive shots and go under par early, and unfortunately I haven't been able to keep it going ‑‑ except for yesterday.”
On the positive there have also been 19 birdies and some brilliant shots. His putter has shown glimpses of fire. His driver has not lacked distance, pounding it past Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler on several occasions. A nice feeling for someone with a dodgy back.
While there will be no victory on return - Hideki Matsuyama leads at 19-under and he’s seven shots clear of his nearest rivals in Dustin Johnson and Henrik Stenson – if Woods just gets through Sunday unscathed he already has plenty of good feelings to take in to 2017.
Even if he is starting to feel the fatigue factor.
“I am, I am. I'm definitely not as fresh as I would like to be,” Woods added.
“No matter how much you work out, it's very different than being in playing shape.
“Because I've been away for so long, I haven't been able to condition myself physically. I'm not running like I used to when I was younger. Those 30‑mile weeks are gone.
“I'm not lifting like I used to. I'm just not quite there, but it's coming. That's the great thing is that I'm building, and the fact that each day I've gotten a little bit stronger.
“I think I'm getting used to playing out here, the mental preparation for a round. I'm starting to get into the flow of warming up, seeing shots, feeling shots, hitting shots, getting the feel for the wind.
“I know exactly what it's going to do at that trajectory, all the things that you don't really do at home.”
Sunday will once again no doubt produce some ups and downs. As will 2017.
And it will no doubt continue to be a fun ride.
Tiger Woods comments from the booth at the Hero World Challenge