Less than 24 hours before he hits his first competitive shot in nearly 15 months, Tiger Woods said he’ll be ready for his long-awaited return Thursday morning.
Woods played 18 holes in the Hero World Challenge pro-am on Wednesday at Albany in the Bahamas. From his warm-up session on the range through the end of his round, his game was under a microscope. Media heavily outnumbered the fans following along. He eagled two holes on the front nine — both par 5s — and social media nearly melted. Unofficially, he shot 33-37 for a two-under 70. The event’s previous two winners, Bubba Watson last year and Jordan Spieth in 2014, shot 25 under and 26 under, respectively, over 72 holes.
Woods didn’t flush every shot Wednesday, but he was pleased with the tune-up.
“I felt good with pretty much everything,” he said. “I was able to hit all the shots I needed to hit.”
The 14-time major-winner hasn’t played since August 2015, when he tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship. Since then he’s still found ways to dominate headlines while recovering from two back surgeries last fall. He entered the field for the Safeway Open in October, but he withdrew days before the event while describing his game as “vulnerable.” Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Woods said his putting remains rusty.
“My speed’s off. I did some work two and three days ago, but (the greens) were double cut and now they’re single cut, different speed,” he said. “Most of my putts I left short. The last couple holes I made a couple putts and I was telling (caddie) Joey (LaCava) I’m going to hit it at least four, five feet past the hole, I don’t care, and they were going about a foot past.”
Spieth, who won the Australian Open two weeks ago, said there’s a different buzz around the tournament this week with Woods back in the fold.
“He’s still just turning every head when he walks into the dining area,” Spieth said. “Or if he’s on the driving range. I mean, everybody’s looking up to see him hit some shots. I was doing it this morning, interested obviously. I think he’s accepted the fact that he’ll be patient. I think this is a perfect week for him to come back being fully healthy. There’s less people that are out there watching, he can play quickly, he’s playing around a lot of people that he knows on a place that he’s familiar with and is a member. Seems like a good time to get some swings under the gun.”
Woods’ first round begins at 12 p.m. EST on Thursday. He’ll play alongside Ryder Cup hero Patrick Reed, who typically wears red on Sundays to pay homage to his childhood hero. It will be 467 days since Woods last played a tournament round.
“I’ll be focused,” Woods said. “I’ll be ready.”