By Charles Jay
Well, Tiger Woods is back, and for a while there, folks thought they were looking at some sort of potential fairy tale. He scored birdies on four of the first eight holes in the Hero World Challenge, and was actually tied for the lead. The winner of 79 tournament titles looked as if he had never been away. But the fact of the matter is that he HAD been away – for 466 days, in fact – and in situations like that, reality eventually sets in. And it did; Woods, who shot a 33 on the front nine of the Albany Golf Club, participated in a bit of a bogey-fest on the back nine, shooting 40 and finishing one over par. He ended Thursday in 17th place, which for him wasn’t all that good, because there were only eighteen players invited for the event.
Woods was the only player outside the world’s top 50 to get an invitation, and well, it was more or less a “fait accompli,” since he is the official host. But he was not one of the favorites; in fact, he opened up with a price of +2250 to win, according to the golf betting odds at America’s Bookie. The one player who was the longest shot, JB Holmes (+3000), actually has the first-round lead, shooting a sizzling 64 (eight under par).
Interestingly enough, Woods faltered on some of the Par 5s, which used to be where he made up a lot of ground. “I haven’t played in a while,” was his response at the press conference. Woods last competed in August of 2015, as he tied for tenth place in the Wyndham Championship, a World Golf Championships event. He had two back procedures after that, and it was questionable as to whether he was even going to play again. But here he is.
Woods got out of trouble on the opening hole, when he hit his tee shot into the rough, but he made par and started to roll after that. But his slide began on the ninth, a Par 5, where he hit his first shot into the brush and had to take a bogey. He did not finish well, as his tee shot on 18 went into the water. That led to double-bogey. All told, he used 27 putts in the opening round.
Still, he got a bit of a charge out of just being back on the course under tournament conditions. “It’s good to have that adrenaline surging through the system again,” he said.
This tournament, being held in Nassau (in the Bahamas), has an exclusive and limited field, so no one, including Tiger, has to worry about making the cut. Hideki Matsuyama ended the Thursday round one shot behind Holmes, while Dustin Johnson was two shots back.
In the head-to-head matchups posted at America’s Bookie for Friday’s action, Justin Rose, the only player Tiger “beat” on Thursday, is a -160 favorite over Woods (+140). Also, Jordan Spieth is a -130/+110 favorite over Rickie Fowler; Matsuyama is -155 over Holmes (+135) and Johnson is a -130 favorite over Henrik Stenson, who is priced at +110.