NASSAU, Bahamas – Tiger Woods’ first competitive round in more than six months was predictably eventful.
This week’s host at the Hero World Challenge played his first three holes in 1 under par and was outpacing his playing partner Justin Thomas by a shot.
The two went in distinctly different directions for the next 15 holes.
Woods bogeyed Nos. 4 and 6 and made the turn at even par. He made just three more pars the rest of the way.
Woods made a double bogey-7 at the par-5 15th hole after hitting his tee shot into a shrub, bogeyed No. 16 after missing the green from a fairway bunker, and then three-putted from 45 feet at the 17th hole for bogey and a 3-over 75.
“I got off to a decent start. I didn’t play the par 5s particularly well all day. I had really a lack of commitment through most of the middle part of my round and finishing,” explained Woods, who was 18th in the field of 20. “I just didn’t quite commit to what I was doing and feeling. You take it for granted, I guess, when you’re playing all the time.”
That lack of commitment defined Woods’ first round since he withdrew from the Masters in April and the surgery on his right ankle that followed to address post-traumatic arthritis that was caused by injuries suffered in a February 2021 car wreck.
But his score was only part of the equation on Thursday. Testing that rebuilt ankle was also part of his plan, and even though he continues to labor with a clear limp, the round served as progress.
Not that he was interested in moral victories.
“I’m sore, there’s no doubt about that,” Woods said. “We’ve got some work to do tonight, tomorrow to get back in the gym and activate and get ready for it. Hopefully hit some better shots. And now I know mentally what I need to do better.
“I think that’s something that physically I knew I was going to be OK. Mentally, I was really rusty and made a lot of errors in the mind that normally I don’t make.”
But those mental errors, which Woods explained were all part of his failure to commit to certain shots, can be corrected. If there’s any optimism to be found in his 75 shots, it was his ability to get from the first tee to the 18th green, which until recently didn’t seem realistic.
Woods said the surgery in April on his ankle has rid him of the pain that prompted him to withdraw from the Masters but the force his swing creates, which produced a 10th-ranked 302-yard driving average on Thursday, has taken a toll on other parts of his body.
“My leg, my back, my neck,” Woods said when asked where he was sore. “Just from playing, hitting shots and trying to hold off shots. It’s just different at game speed, too. Game speed is a lot different than at-home speed.”
This week’s Hero World Challenge will serve as a competitive beta test for Woods as he eyes a return in 2024 when he hopes to play a tournament each month (four to six starts), with a focus more on his body which requires countless hours of preparation and recovery after rounds.
“It takes hours on both ends. It’s been like that for years,” he said. “So ever since my back went, it would take hours to activate, it would take hours to recover, and they become long days to play 18 holes.”
Beginning a tournament with a 3-over effort would normally leave Woods in a dark mood, but given the twist and turns of his most recent path back to competition, an eventful start is probably not the worst thing.