Phase One of Tiger Woods’ comeback was completed successfully on Sunday at the Hero World Challenge. After having not played tournament golf for more than 15 months because of back ailments, he finished all 72 holes without physical incident at Albany Golf Club.
Woods did not win the tournament he hosts and that raises money for his foundation, but he did card exactly as many birdies for the week as winner Hideki Matsuyama did: 24. But, after his final-round 76 Sunday, Woods finished 14 shots behind Matsuyama’s 18-under winning score.
“It was a great week to be back playing again, competing and playing against some of the best players in the world,’’ Woods said. “Unfortunately, I made a lot of mistakes this week. A lot of birdies, but also made a lot of mistakes.’’
To go with Woods’ 24 birdies came six double bogeys, three of them taking place on the 18th hole, including one on Sunday.
“On the flip side, I was able to be aggressive and made some birdies, made some putts and just need to balance it out.’’
Woods’ caddie, Joe LaCava, had a modest goal for his man for the week.
“I thought it was good, a lot of positives,’’ LaCava said. “He’s upright, No. 1. Seriously. You laugh, but I think that’s good. I love the fact that he was hitting a lot of shots that he was kind of picturing in his mind. There were a few loose ones, obviously, but he hit plenty of good shots, plenty of good things to take away from it. And he made some putts.
“The fact that’s he’s making birdies is a good sign. I wasn’t going to compare him to the rest of the field. It’s a great field, they’ve been playing all year and they’ve all been playing great.
“My goal was personally was to get him through five rounds [including the pro-am] on his feet. That doesn’t sound like much, but he hasn’t been doing much of that, so that was big. And the fact that he feels good afterward is great.’’
Woods used to measure the success of a tournament week by whether he was loading winner’s trophy into his courtesy car on Sunday afternoon. Expectations have changed with the times.
“Getting back to this point is beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced in my lifetime,’’ Woods said. “The pain issues that I had, it was rough. Quite frankly, there were some pretty dire times where I just couldn’t move.’’
So now Woods moves on. He’ll likely next play a PGA Tour event in January at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he’s won multiple times. He, as usual, was noncommittal on his upcoming schedule, but he did profess a desire to play more.
“I’ll consider a lot of things, but I would like in my heart of hearts to play a full schedule next year,’’ he said. “Big picture? It feels good to be back out here playing again, competing and trying to beat these, the best players in the world. I missed it. I love it.’’