Hero World Challenge 2016

Round 4 - Hideki Matsuyama wins as Tiger struggles

December 5, 2016

Japan's Hideki Matsuyama, the hottest player in world golf over the past two months, survived a shaky back nine to clinch his fourth win in five starts with a two-stroke victory at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Sunday.

While tournament host Tiger Woods delivered the good, bad and ugly as he finished 14 shots back in his much anticipated return to competition, Matsuyama ended a dominant week with his worst round, a one-over 73 at the Albany course on the island of New Providence.

The 24-year-old Japanese, seven strokes ahead overnight in the 18-man event, birdied two of the first nine holes, then shrugged off a double at the 10th and a bogey at the 14th as he posted an 18-under total in blustery conditions.

"I have played very, very well until today," world number six Matsuyama, speaking through an interpreter, told Golf Channel about his sizzling run that included a maiden World Golf Championships title in Shanghai in October.

"Today I struggled a bit."

British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden eagled the par-five ninth on the way to a 68 and second place, three ahead of Americans Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar.

Woods, back in action after being sidelined nearly 16 months due to back-related issues, endured a roller-coaster ride that included five birdies and three double-bogeys as he closed with a 76 for 15th place at four-under.

"I think it was a great week, to be back playing again and competing, playing against the best players in the world," said Woods. "Unfortunately I made a lot of mistakes this week, made a lot of birdies but a lot of mistakes.

"I made some poor decisions, missed the ball in the wrong spots and quite frankly it feels a little weird not to play in a cart," said Woods.

"So it's a little different and I am getting used to that, getting my legs back and getting my body back, focusing for a long period of time. And these are all things that I have missed for about a year and a half."

After making strong starts in each of the first three rounds, Woods struggled early on Sunday with a bogey at the fifth and a double-bogey at the next.

Though he thrilled fans with a run of three birdies from the seventh, he limped over the next three holes, going bogey, double-bogey, bogey to tumble back down.

"I was playing aggressive, this golf course allows one to be aggressive, but also I made some bad mistakes," said Woods, who will turn 41 later this month.

"Three doubles today just adds up to a pretty high number. But on the flip side, I was able to be aggressive and make some birdies, make some putts and I just need to balance it out."

Round 3 - Tiger Woods struggles after fast start

December 4, 2016

For a third day in a row, Tiger Woods treated his fans to a rousing start in his much anticipated return to competition but lost momentum over the closing stretch at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Saturday.

Woods, who had been sidelined for nearly 16 months due to back-related issues, birdied six of the first 11 holes while briefly closing to within two shots of the lead before bogeying 13 and 14, and ending the third round with a double bogey.

The 40-year-old Woods, the prime focus of attention in the 18-man event which he hosts at the Albany course on the island of New Providence, signed for a two-under 70 that put him a distant 11 behind runaway leader Hideki Matsuyama of Japan (65).

"For three straight days I've been off to great starts," Woods told Golf Channel. "Two of the three days I did not continue it, but overall I am just so happy to be back out here competing again and fighting against these guys.

"It's been a tough road to come back here, to get to this point. I missed it," said Woods who treated his fans with a highlight at the fifth where he holed out from a greenside bunker for birdie.

World number six Matsuyama, who has won three of his last four starts worldwide, holed out from the fairway to eagle the par-four seventh on his way to a 19-under total of 197 for a commanding seven-shot lead.

Long-hitting American Dustin Johnson (72) and British Open champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden (66) were tied for second with Americans Brandt Snedeker (69) and Matt Kuchar (71) a further stroke back at 11-under.

Most eyes, however, were on tournament host Woods, who thrilled the galleries at Albany as he birdied the first, second, third and fifth to surge up the leaderboard.

Though he three-putted to bogey the par-five sixth, he picked up further shots at the seventh and 11th, where he sank an eight-footer to sit five strokes off the pace.
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As the winds picked up, Woods' game unravelled.

He bogeyed 13 and 14 as he missed five of the last six fairways off the tee and closed with an ugly six at the par-four last after his second shot ricocheted into a water hazard via mounding off the left side of the fairway.

Round 2 - Tiger Woods in contention with a 65

December 3, 2016

You believing yet?

Tiger Woods followed up a decent enough return performance on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge with an outstanding one on Friday, throwing another layer of beach sand on the doubts about his return from a long layoff. Yes, yes, the usual caveats apply: easy course, small field, benign conditions … but still, shooting 7-under 65 on the day is quite an achievement for a guy on the cusp of retirement this time last year.

Thursday’s round was all about sizing up the course, and Friday’s round was all about picking it apart. Woods opened the front nine Friday with the exact same score, 33, but this was far different than Thursday’s start-hot, collapse-late run. Woods birdied the first, sixth, and ninth holes, his drives long, his approaches accurate, his putts true.

The true test of a golfer, though, is how well they respond when the narrative turns, when the shots and lies turn ugly. On Thursday, Woods withered at the ends of both halves of his round, bogeying the ninth and then double-bogeying 16 and 18. This time around, Woods’ first trouble came at the long par-3 8th, where he drifted wide left into the scrub and sand that rings the green. He appeared to have almost no shot, but executed a flawless chip, scooping the ball out of the sand just enough to let it drift down in the direction of the hole for an eventual par.

After the turn, Woods set about dismantling the course. He carded four birdies in five holes, clawing his way up the leaderboard and at one point holding the mark for low round on the day. That run nearly came to a crashing halt on 16, when Woods ended up deep within one of the sawgrass-laden bushes that line Albany’s waste area. Woods could only chunk the ball out, setting up what would be a long, curling putt that he drained for par … followed by a fist-pump that brought back memories of the old days.

Woods is six shots off the lead shared by Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, which is three better than when he started the day.

Granted, aside from the names atop the leaderboard the Hero World Challenge is about as far as you can get from a major, but it’s still worth noting that this is usually the point at which Woods starts to gag in big-time tournaments. He hasn’t won a major since that classic U.S. Open in 2008 at Torrey Pines, and he missed the cut in three of four in 2015.

But Woods has made it this far without incident. The baby steps are turning to full strides forward.

Round 1 - Tiger Woods shoots 73 on return

December 2, 2016

Not only did Tiger Woods return to golf Thursday, he returned to being Tiger.

Just not for long.

Hardly looking like a player who had not competed in 466 days, Woods ran off three straight birdies with a variety of shots and was tied for the lead in the Hero World Challenge as he approached the turn.

Three shots in the bushes, one shot in the water and a few fits of anger sent him toward the bottom of the pack. A pair of double bogeys over the final three holes ruined an otherwise impressive return, and Woods shot 40 on the back nine at Albany Golf Club and had to settle for a 1-over 73.

He was in 17th place in the 18-man field. Only Justin Rose had a higher score.

Even so, Woods has reason to be encouraged. After taking off 15 months to recover from two back surgeries, he felt no pain or limitations. His misses were not big, just costly. And he was playing again.

''It could have been something really good,'' Woods said. ''I got off to a nice, solid start and made a few mistakes there. I didn't play the par 5s very well in the middle part of the round and consequently, got it going the wrong way. ... But all in all, I feel pretty good. I'm looking forward to another three more days.''

He was nine shots behind J.B. Holmes, who opened with an 8-under 64 and had a one-shot lead over Hideki Matsuyama, with U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson at 66.

Curiosity was greater than expectations for Woods, who was coming off the longest hiatus of his golfing life. Plagued by back problems since 2013 when he was No. 1 in the world, he finally shut it down after tying for 10th in the Wyndham Championship on Aug. 23, 2015, and then going through two back surgeries.

He was in so much pain last year there were times he wondered he had played his last tournament.

With high anticipation, he tugged his opening tee shot into the rough on the left edge of a bunker and gouged that out to 15 feet for par. Just like that, it all started to feel as though he had never been away.

''By the time I hit my tee shot on the second hole, I had already gotten into the flow of the round,'' Woods said. ''That's something that for me, when I've taken layoffs and taken breaks, it's how quickly can I find the feel of the round? To not play in 15, 16 months and get it on the second hole is nice.''

He also knew that with only a stiff tropical wind behind him on three of the par 5s, scores would be low.

For a short time, Woods seemed up to the task. He hit a 5-iron from 231 yards just over the green and passed his first test, a 30-yard pitch-and-run and that checked slightly and rolled out to a few feet from the hole for a birdie . He faced a more difficult pitch up the slope on the next hole and hit a chunk-and-run to 3 feet.

His confidence kept building - the flop shot from 40 yards to 5 feet for birdie on the par-5 sixth, the wedge to 5 feet for birdie on the seventh, and a 6-iron he struck so well on the par-3 eighth that he was asking for perfection. ''One yard! One yard!'' he said as the ball was in the air, and then settled 2 feet away.

At that point he was tied with Holmes.

But he flubbed a pitch on the par-5 ninth and made bogey. Two holes later, he flared an iron from the sandy waste area into a bush and had to take a penalty shot, making another bogey on a par 5. Woods was still hanging around in the middle of the pack when he hit 7-iron to 12 feet on the par-5 15th and two-putted for birdie.

And then it all fell apart.

Froom the middle of the 16th fairway, he pulled his approach and dropped the club as it sailed into a bush. He had to play that backward to the fairway, pitched a wedge some 30 feet by and made double bogey. And then on the 18th, he pulled his driver and immediately slammed the club into the turf as he watched for the splash.

His pitch hit the pin - it was too strong, anyway - and he missed from 20 feet for another bogey.

''Just made some really silly mistakes, mistakes I don't normally make,'' Woods said. ''But I haven't played in a while. Unfortunately, I made those mistakes. I can clean that up. We've got three more days. Wind is supposed to pump on the weekend, and I'll be playing a little bit better.''


1 JPN Hideki Matsuyama -18 - 65 67 65 73 270
2 SWE Henrik Stenson -16 - 67 71 66 68 272
T3 USA Rickie Fowler -13 - 68 70 68 69 275
T3 USA Dustin Johnson -13 - 66 66 72 71 275
T3 USA Matt Kuchar -13 - 67 67 71 70 275
T6 USA Brandt Snedeker -11 - 72 64 69 72 277
T6 USA Jordan Spieth -11 - 68 69 70 70 277
T6 USA Bubba Watson -11 - 72 63 75 67 277
9 RSA Louis Oosthuizen -9 - 67 67 73 72 279
10 USA Patrick Reed -8 - 72 69 71 68 280
11 USA JB Holmes -7 - 64 73 70 74 281
12 USA Zach Johnson -6 - 72 69 70 71 282
T13 USA Brooks Koepka -5 - 72 68 72 71 283
T13 USA Jimmy Walker -5 - 70 74 66 73 283
15 USA Tiger Woods -4 - 73 65 70 76 284
16 SCO Russell Knox -2 - 69 72 71 74 286
17 ARG Emiliano Grillo 1 - 70 72 75 72 289
RET GBR Justin Rose 2 - 74 - - - 74