Nassau: Riding the wave of one of the finest revivals in sport Tiger Woods will tee off on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge, where he also plays the role of a host at the Albany Golf Course.
Armed with a new contact for four years for both the tournament and his own relationship as a Global Corporate Partner of the Hero MotoCorp, the 43-year-old legend and winner of 14 Majors, looks all set for a new lease of life on a career that has already been glittering, but had been put on hold for a while.
Both Woods and Pawan Munjal, Chairman, CEO and MD of the Hero MotoCorp, were glowing as they spoke of the renewal of the partnership for another four years. They also spoke of working together on the student programmes, charities and much else that Tiger’s Foundation works on.
As Woods said, “This work (the Foundation) is more impactful than what I have done on the golf course, but what I have done in golf, gives me the platform to do all the other things. It is very satisfying to have someone like Pawan believe in what we do.”
In a year since the last Hero World Challenge Woods has climbed from being 1199 in the World to the 13th place on Official World Rankings. The last time he was No. 1 in the world was on May 17, 2014. In the period since, seven other players have scaled the summit as No. 1, and four of them – Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose are here this week among the elite 18 stars competing for the US$ 3.5 million with the winner taking away US$ one million.
Playing in the company of some of the finest players of our times, Woods was all smiles – a far cry from a year ago, when he did not know what future had in store for him.
Exactly a year ago at this very venue, Woods presented a grim picture. He was ‘back’ after a series of back surgeries and lot else, and did not know how long or how well he would hold out in the face of a stiff contest. He set himself tiny goals – playing without pain; then playing four rounds and then looking at contending at Tour events and finally at the Majors. The pathway was narrow, but Tiger stayed on it – he came close to winning in his fourth start on the comeback. “That may have been a bit too soon,” he admitted.
But he made his way through contending at Tampa Bay, Bay Hill and finally at The Open at Carnoustie, where his name featured on top of the board for 48 minutes. Ultimately Italian, Francesco Molinari won the Open. Woods did not win, but he finally did at the Tour Championships. It was his 80th title, but the first on PGA Tour since 2013. “It was big relief,” said Woods. “But there has been no time to celebrate. I was soon on a plane to Paris for Ryder Cup.”
"I was exhausted by the time I got to the Ryder Cup," said Woods. "Every single tournament, it was just stifling. Hot in D.C., and Akron. Hot at the PGA for all the days. Hot in New York, Boston. It was hard for me to maintain my strength and weight through all that. I was worn out mentally, physically and emotionally."
Woods has made it clear that the Majors and the big events will be his focus. He always played much lesser than others, but in 2018 he played 18 events and that was most since his 21 as a 30-year-old in 2005.
"When I had a couple of weeks off (this past season), the first week was a chance to rest and the second week was a chance to prepare," he said. "At the end of the season, it was a different deal. I felt like I could never rest and I was always chasing being prepared, because my whole year wasn't planned out. I have to be in better shape than I was last year to be able to handle the condensed schedule. Now, it's about managing and making sure I'm fresh, because I know I can win tournaments again."
The whole golfing fraternity was treated to that winning feeling at Atlanta at the Tour Championships. Then came his first hole-in-one in 20 years in a fun game with his son, Charlie and the US$ 9 million Match to Phil Mickelson near Las Vegas, which he lost.
But 2018 was about winning the war – with his body and he won it hands down.