5 things we learned from Tiger Woods at the Hero World Challenge

By T.J. Auclair
Published on
5 things we learned from Tiger Woods at the Hero World Challenge

Is there anyone out there with anything but rave reviews for the return of Tiger Woods?

After 301 days away from the game, Woods opened the Hero World Challenge with a 3-under 69 on Thursday. On Friday, he was one better with a 4-under 68. Conditions were far more difficult in Round 3 and Tiger's game wasn't on point. That added up to a 3-over 75. Then, on Sunday, a 4-under 68.

When all was said and done, the 79-time PGA Tour winner and 14-time major champion finished at 8-under 280 and in a tie for ninth.

Yes, it was basically an 18-man exhibition, but would you have expected that much from Tiger a week ago? No way.

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Here are the five things we learned from Tiger in the Bahamas:

5. There's still a fire burning in his belly. Athletes as successful or as dominate as Tiger Woods are few and far between. When they win as often as Tiger once did and then suffer injuries as often as he has over the last several years, sometimes you wonder: Do they get bored? What's left to accomplish? Is all the rehab that goes into bouncing back from injuries worth it?

Tiger answered all three of those questions in the last seven days: No. Plenty. And Yes.

He looked both motivated and excited. You wonder how much of that can be attributed to the time he has spent at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup as an assistant captain to many of the game's younger stars. The old dog wants to show that he's still got some bark in him too.

4. Tiger isn't reluctant to really go at the ball. For me, this is the biggest revelation from the Hero World Challenge. Sure, we saw a few social media videos of Tiger's swing, but that's not the same as in competition. I wanted to see if he would really let loose and swing out of his shoes like in the past, or if the swing would be tentative and protective of his back.

What I saw is a Tiger with no fear. There were 280-yard iron shots into par 5s. There was ball speed and swing speed that would have ranked inside the top 20 on Tour last season. There was that violent recoil after unleashing a monster drive. All terrific signs.

It means he's not in pain -- something Tiger admittedly hasn't experienced in years. If Tiger can play regularly -- without pain -- who are we to question what his ceiling would be? He turns 42 at the end of December.

Vijay Singh, who traded the No. 1 ranking with Woods in the mid 2000s, won 22 times after the age of 40. We're not saying Tiger will match that, we're just saying it can be done.

3. His short game is still a little dicey. Not a shocker and nothing to be concerned about. Every great player concedes that the most difficult thing to regain is feel. It comes with time.

Woods had a few chunky chips at the Hero World Challenge. But, he also hit some ridiculous shots, touchy shots with ease -- like this one on Friday where he chipped the ball from the green to within a few feet of the hole. The lie doesn't get any tighter than this:

The short game mastery is there -- it just needs reps.

2. The putter can still sizzle. Rocking that Scotty Cameron putter that led Tiger to 13 of his 14 major wins just looks so, so good in his hands.

There seems to be a confidence in Tiger's stroke with that particular putter more so than any other putter, and it's not hard to understand why.

There weren't any tentative strokes at the Hero World Challenge. Woods hit every single one as if he thought he was going to make it. Sometimes that meant missing and sending the ball 15 feet past the hole.

That was encouraging. And, when the putts did drop -- as many of them did -- the fist pumps came back.

Woods also had several par-saving putts from 4-10 feet that found the bottom of the cup with ease. Those are all confidence boosters and can really keep a round going.

1. Tiger -- for the first time in a long time -- looked happy on the course. This last point can not be understated. It didn't look like a painful chore. Tiger looked genuinely thrilled to be back in competitive mode and hitting shots that count (as much as shots this time of year can count).

It's still too early to be over the moon about Tiger's return. Let's see him string together a few, four-round tournaments and see how his body holds up.

But in terms of a small sample size, I don't think we could have asked for any more than what Tiger gave us at the Hero World Challenge.

Things are looking up for the most dominant player to ever play the game.

That's great for Tiger Woods, but even better for the game.