NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods had 100 yards to a pin tucked in the back right corner of the 11th green at Albany on Saturday. It was the type of shot he used to pull the string like a yo-yo, tap-in for birdie and move on to the next hole.
Woods selected a sand wedge and lofted the shot into the wind. It’s a shot he has hit hundreds of time, and perhaps for the first time in a long time he was in his own estimation 3 ½ steps too long, the ball bounding over the green. Death. He made yet another bogey on a par 5, the holes he cleaned up on during his prime.
“That was a hard shot,” Woods said. “It’s going to get stood up in the wind and I had to take off… trying to hit it right there pin high and I missed by three and a half steps.”
Still, there’s reason for optimism for Woods, and he had no trouble finding it after the round.
Tiger bounced back from a shaky bogey-bogey start with four birdies over the next seven holes. He made a birdie and two bogeys on the inward nine to shoot 1-under 71. Two days in a row in red figures isn’t too shabby after a seven-month layoff from competitive golf.
But Tiger knows that stats don’t lie – well, maybe sometimes – but not on this occasion. He has been negative Strokes Gained against the field in all three rounds in SG: Approach and SG: Putting. For the week, he ranks 20th in SG: Approach (and 19th in proximity) and 19th in SG: Putting. That doesn’t sound too bad except for the fact the Hero is a 20-man field. Dead last in approach the green for one of the best iron players of all-time is about as un-Tiger-like as it gets.
Is that just rust? Maybe. But it suggests he’s going to need more reps to get ready to play the majors in 2024. Albany is typically a birdie-fest, and he’ll need to be much sharper. His rounds have stalled on the back nine – he’s 6 under on the front and 6 over on the back, which typically is the tougher side – which suggests he may be running out of gas, understandably. The good news is that Tiger still has plenty of pop – he’s averaging 308 yards off the tee – and is encouraged by how his body is feeling and that’s a win for the week.
“To be able to knock off some of the rust as I have this week and showed myself that I can recover each and every day, that was kind of an unknown as far as I’ve walked this far, I’ve done all my training, but add in playing and concentration and adrenaline and all those other factors that speed up everything, I’m very excited how the week’s turned out,” he said.
Tiger, who underwent yet another surgery in April to fuse the subtalar (joint just below the right ankle) and address arthritis caused by his previous talus (ankle) fracture, still is walking gingerly at times but this week (so far) ranks as the best he’s looked physically in a while.
“I can always hit it, I could never get from point A to point B. Once the bone on bone was relieved with the fusion, it’s felt night and day,” he said. “I don’t have mobility, but the fact that I’m able to walk and participate again without having to feel the way I felt just trying to do it again, that was frustrating. Now I’m able to do it. Now it’s just a matter of getting the reps in.”
Asked whether his back is of concern, he said, “My back hurts every day. It is what it is, that’s just life. But I can deal with that, that’s not a problem.”