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Hero World Challenge 2017

Round 4 - Rickie Fowler wins with closing 61

December 4, 2017

Tiger Woods proved he could be competitive again after playing some of the best golf of his comeback with a final-round four-under 68 to tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Sunday.

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No one could match Rickie Fowler, though. The world number nine birdied his first seven holes and won the elite event by four strokes thanks to a course record 11-under par 61 that left him at 18-under 270.

Woods was 10 strokes back but he had plenty of smiles as he answered the question of how he would do in his first tournament in nearly 10 months following spinal fusion surgery.

Pain free, the former world number one struck for six birdies and an eagle at the Albany course before two closing bogeys. He also had a double bogey in the elite 18-man event that featured eight of the world's top 10.

"I showed some good signs," Woods told NBC Sports after finishing the four days at eight-under 280. "I hit some really good shots out there (and am ready for) a bright future.... and no pain."

The latter was especially important to the 41-year-old who once dominated the sport.

"I've had some tough times through the years with my back and then finally to come out on the good side and (be) able to get back out there and play. It's pretty cool," he said.

He also spoke positively about the future.

"When I was struggling with my back, the world seemed very small. Day to day stuff was very difficult for me to do," Woods said. "Now I am able to sit back and enjoy it a little bit more... It's been really nice."

He and his team will now sit down to determine how best to build his 2018 schedule for major championships.

"Play enough, but not play too much," Woods said.

"I don't know what golf courses I will be playing, what's the best way to go about it. ...We'll figure it out."

He definitely had the Albany course figured over the first nine holes on Sunday.

The day after a bogey-filled front nine, Woods showed flashes of his old self with three birdies and an eagle to make the turn at five-under 31.

Reality returned at 10 where he had a double-bogey at the par-four hole. But the 79 times PGA Tour winner struck back with birdies at 11, 14 and 15 before bogeys at 17 and 18.

Fowler was looking at a seven-stroke deficit when he began his round but seven straight birdies and another at the ninth put him in front at the turn, which he made in eight-under 28.

He added three more birdies on the back nine for a sizzling, bogey-free round.

"I knew I needed to get off to a quick start today to at least show (overnight leader) Charley Hoffman) I was there," Fowler said. "We took care of that and kept it rolling."

Hoffman, who started the day with a five-stroke lead, shot 72 and faded to second at 274. England's Tommy Fleetwood (67) and Jordan Spieth (69) tied for third at 12-under 276.

Round 3 - Hoffman leads as Tiger fades

December 3, 2017

Tiger Woods fell behind early and never recovered. Charley Hoffman pulled away late and made himself hard to beat.

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Hoffman handled the blustery conditions Saturday in the Hero World Challenge for a 2-under 70, one of only five rounds under par, and built a five-shot lead going into the final round at Albany Golf Club.

Woods went 11 consecutive holes without hitting a green in regulation. He went 14 holes until making his first birdie. He had to settle for a 75, leaving him 10 shots out of the lead and finding consolation in the way he feels and the way he fought to keep it from getting worse.

''It's nice to be part of the fight again,'' Woods said. ''Fighting against the golf course, fighting against the guys, that's fun. I just haven't done it a whole lot in the last few years.''

The strong wind took the air out of any hopes that Woods, playing for the first time in 10 months following a fourth back surgery, might even get into contention in his celebrated return. He opened with rounds of 69-68. Those two rounds were enough for his odds of winning the Masters to plunge to 15-1, the same as Rickie Fowler and Jon Rahm. And then a warm afternoon brought a cold dash of reality.

Woods opened with four bogeys in seven holes. He played four par 5s without having a birdie putt on any of them. And when he finally made a birdie, Woods removed his cap to acknowledge the crowd and held up a finger to indicate his first birdie.

''It's ridiculous it took me 14 holes to make a birdie,'' Woods said. ''At that time, I'd already played four par 5s and nothing happened. Just one of those days. Anything I did right ended up in a bad spot, and then everything I did wrong, it was really bad.''

It was tough on everyone.

No one in the 18-man field broke 70.

Hoffman had a few nervous moments but paid for it only once. He send his tee shot far right into the bushes on a sand dune right of the 10th fairway. He took a penalty drop onto a sandy path and wound up with a double bogey that brought a half-dozen players back into the mix.

But not for long.

Hoffman closed with three birdies over his last five holes, including the 18th hole for the second straight day. That put him at 14-under 202.

Justin Rose, an Albany resident, had a 71 and joined British Open champion Jordan Spieth (72) at 9-under 207.

''I got lucky on some tee balls that didn't find the bushes and stayed in the sandy areas and I was able to sort of scrap it around,'' Hoffman said. ''I'm going to have to handle my nerves a little better than I did today''

Woods was under pressure early. In his previous two rounds, he was under par early in the round. This one started with a tee shot into the waste area, an approach the wind knocked down short of the green and a chip that was too strong, running 10 feet by and leading to a bogey.

Even his good shots didn't work out for him. Woods blistered a 3-wood from 278 yards into the wind and saw it run through the green into a tough lie. His chip didn't reach the green. His next chip ran 6 feet by the hole and he missed the par putt.

He bogeyed the next par 5 when he didn't play for a flyer out of the rough, went well long and was left in such a tough spot that he played away from the flag and his pitch went through the green to the fringe.

He already was 5 over for his round through 10 holes, and he did well not to drop any more shots until he made a pair of birdies late.

Woods began his round by giving a hug to his 10-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son, who flew over from Florida. Even after a 75, he still managed to look at the big picture. He was hitting the ball well, his back felt strong and he at least feels as though he can contend.

''I think overall, I'm very happy with what's going on this week,'' Woods said. ''There were a lot of questions that I had - I'm sure you guys have had - and I feel like I've come out on a good side.''

But he made it clear he had fewer questions about his performance than the public.

''I knew how I was playing at home,'' he said. ''I knew how I was hitting shots. I knew what was going on. Obviously, the very intelligent people out there didn't know.''

This is the second straight year the 54-hole leader has built a cushion. Hideki Matsuyama led by seven shots last year and held on to beat Henrik Stenson.

It would be a great way for Hoffman to cap off a peculiar year. He hasn't won a tournament since the Texas Open in May 2016, but he was in the mix at the Masters and the U.S. Open and played on his first Presidents Cup team.

''To have a chance to win this great tournament, hopefully I can knock it off,'' Hoffman said.

Round 2 - Tiger Woods in contention

December 2, 2017

One of the biggest cheers at the Hero World Challenge came from seeing the name Tiger Woods moved to the top of the leaderboard.

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It just wasn't there for long.

In another impressive showing in his latest comeback from back surgeries, Woods built on a solid start with a 31 on the front nine at Albany Golf Club that briefly gave him the lead Friday. He stalled on the back nine with a pair of bogeys and not enough birdie chances, and he settled for a 4-under 68.

"Successful," Woods said, when asked to describe his round in one word.

When the second round ended, Woods was five shots behind Charley Hoffman, who had a 63 that might have sent fans into a frenzy if they had been watching.

Hoffman made 12 birdies, closing with five in a row . He was at 12-under 132 and had a three-shot lead over Jordan Spieth (67) and Tommy Fleetwood (69). Hoffman made only one par over his final 12 holes to go along with eight birdies and three bogeys.

But this week, a holiday exhibition with an 18-man field and no cut, is all about Woods. That much was obvious after the round.

Hoffman spoke to no more than five reporters about his round, while a dozen others were about 30 feet away surrounding Joe LaCava, Woods' caddie, looking for any additional morsel about his round.

Woods delivered plenty on his own. He opened with three birdies in four holes. He made three good pars, one of them having to chip up the slope from a thin lie on No. 8, and then really raised hopes with his eagle on the par-5 ninth, set up by a 3-wood into the wind from 265 yards.

"Hit up in the air and took something off of it and cut it back into the wind," he said.

He made the 20-foot putt to reach 8 under. Behind him, Hoffman made bogey on the par-3 eighth. Woods was alone in the lead, and the workers at the white scoreboard to the left of the green quickly moved his name to the top as some 100 people - that constitutes a large gallery this week - began cheering. There was a smattering of "He's back!" and even a few mentions about the Masters.

Woods missed it. He was on his way to the 10th tee. By the time he saw a leaderboard, it was getting crowded at the top with Hoffman making his run, Spieth chipping in for birdie and setting up another with a tough chip, and Fleetwood overcoming a double bogey-bogey start to his back nine with three straight birdies.

"I saw somewhere on the back nine, I think there was like five guys at 8 under or something like that, something weird like that," Woods said.

A case could be made that his name among them was weird.

His past is enough to merit legend status in this field. Woods has 79 victories on the PGA Tour, compared with 81 for the rest of the field. But he hasn't won in more than four years, and this is only his 20th start since the first of four back surgeries in the spring of 2014.

He had played only seven rounds dating to August 2015, and this was his first competition in 10 months. He had fusion surgery on his lower back in April.

"You've got to be anxious - doesn't matter who it is, doesn't matter how well he's been in the past at handling pressure," Spieth said. "It's still a new experience for him to have that little golf. And to come out and play competitive golf and work his way into contention, that's what's really exceptional."

Woods didn't make a bogey until a three-putt from 30 feet on the 12th hole. The greens were quicker, and that's where he struggled. He had an eagle attempt from just short of the 15th green, about 45 feet away, that he ran 15 feet by the hole. He missed that for a three-putt par.

He still played the par 5s in 4 under, a five-shot improvement from the opening round.

And he showed his creative side on the par-3 17th. Facing a long putt over a hump with the grain running away from him, Woods chose to chip it off the putting surface and along the fringe to be able to better judge the speed. It settled 3 feet away for a par.

Otherwise, he looked like any of the other elite players at Albany. And while he wasn't sure what to expect coming into the week, his expectations are getting stronger with each round, especially this one.

"I felt like today I could have easily gotten to double digits under par," he said. "That would have put me probably one or two back, but I think I'm still in it. We've got two more days, and I think it's supposed to blow a little harder to tomorrow. If that's the case, I think a good, solid round should get me up there."

That depends on Hoffman.

"I said at the beginning of the week, I hope he wins," Hoffman said. "It's great for the game of golf. Hopefully, I can stop him from winning this week. But anytime he's in contention, or even playing the golf tournaments, it brings a buzz to golf that we all need."

Round 1 - Tiger Woods solid in return

December 1, 2017

Tiger Woods looked a lot better in his return to golf than he did when he left.

Playing for the first time since his fourth back surgery, Woods returned from a 10-month layoff with a 3-under 69 on a breezy Thursday in the Bahamas that left him three shots behind Tommy Fleetwood after the opening round of the Hero World Challenge.

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''For me, I thought I did great,'' Woods said with a smile.

And in a sign that he was ready to get back into the mix, he was far from satisfied.

Unlike a year ago, when Woods ended a 15-month hiatus from his ailing back, he didn't show any fatigue at the end of his round or make any big numbers. His only regret was playing the par 5s at Albany Golf Club in 1-over par with two bogeys that stalled his momentum.

Coming off a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, Woods hit a 3-wood that rolled up on the green and then down a slope about 30 feet from the pin. It took him four shots from there, starting with a chip that didn't reach the green and his first expletive loud enough for television to pick up.

After his best shot of the day - a pitching wedge he hit low from 95 yards that settled a foot behind the hole for birdie on No. 14 - he sent a drive well to the right into the native dunes. Woods had to take a penalty drop to get back in play and wound up making bogey.

But it was solid enough that Woods was far more interested in the leaderboard than the fact he felt strong physically.

''It was not only nice to get the first round out of the way, but also I'm only three shots out of the lead,'' he said. ''So to be able to put myself there after not playing for 10 months or so, it was nice to feel the adrenaline out there.''

He was tied for eighth in the 18-man field of this holiday exhibition that awards world ranking points but does not count as official on any tour. Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar were at 67, while Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kevin Chappell were at 68.

The buzz was back. Johnson noticed it when he was on the practice range and noticed a crowd around the putting green.

''Tiger must be there,'' Johnson said. ''Because there's 40 people instead of four.''

Golf Channel added an hour of coverage, and Twitter came alive with people curious about the latest return. That included Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors' two-time MVP who played a Web.com Tour event in August. ''The wait is over. The wait is over,'' he tweeted .

Michael Phelps said he was ''pumped to be watching'' Woods on TV again.

This event doesn't draw big crowds, but most of them were with Woods to see how he would fare in this latest comeback, this one from fusion surgery on his lower back on April 20. Given it was his fourth surgery in three years, coupled with a DUI arrest in the summer that exposed the struggles Woods was having with pain medicine, a day like this seemed a long way off.

Woods said he appreciated the moment Thursday morning.

''I was in my head thanking all the people who have helped me in giving me a chance to come back and play this round again,'' he said. ''There were a lot of people who were instrumental in my life - friends, outside people I've never met before, obviously my surgeon. I was very thankful.''

And he was as competitive as always.

Woods delivered his first fist pump on par-4 fourth hole when he scooped a chip that didn't reach the green, and then holed an 18-foot par putt.

While the field is short, the competition is strong with eight of the top in the world at Albany. Woods realizes they have spent the last couple of years playing at a high level that allows them to overcome a few mistakes.

''I don't want to lose shots,'' Woods said. ''I haven't played in a very long time and I can't afford to go out there and make a bunch of bogeys and know that I can make nine, 10 birdies and offset them.''

Along with his five birdies - only two of them were tap-ins - Woods had an assortment of tough par saves, including a 10-footer that kept him dropping another shot on a par 5 at No. 11. He finished his round with a belly wedge from short of the 17th green because of mud on his ball, and holing a 6-foot par putt on the 18th.

A year ago, Woods made a pair of double bogeys over the last three holes for a 73 to finish nine shots behind. This time, he closed with pars and was three back.

PGA champion Justin Thomas, who also opened with a 69 in the same pairing with Woods, is among those who have played with him in recent weeks in Florida. Woods said he once played nine straight days.

''It was what I saw when we played at home,'' Thomas said. ''Obviously, taking this much time off from competition is hard. I felt rusty starting after a month-and-a-half, so I can't imagine what it felt like for him. But he played well.''

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