Tiger Woods returns to the Honda Classic for first time since first back surgery


PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The pro-am round at PGA National was Tiger Woods‘ first since he walked off the course in pain in 2014, weeks away from the first of four back surgeries that have stalled his career.

Now attempting to come back from the latest surgery — a spinal fusion 10 months ago — Woods considered the four-year anniversary only when reminded of it. Part of the troubles then, he said, stemmed from back issues that arose before the tournament. He is still aware, however, that the Champions course here largely represents the origin of his back problems.

This week’s Honda Classic is just his fourth tournament since the latest surgery. Woods is coming off a missed cut last week at the Genesis Open, where he struggled off the tee and hit just 16 of 36 greens — his fewest over 36 holes as a pro.

“I’m just learning how to play tournament golf again, and unfortunately I’ve made some mistakes. … i.e., last week. And that’s just unfortunately part of it,” Woods said Wednesday after the pro-am.

Asked whether he was in “catch-up mode” as it related to preparing for the Masters, which he has not played since 2015, Woods said, “I don’t feel like I am. I know most of the guys have been playing tournament golf a lot more than I have. As I said, I’m looking forward to April, trying to get my game solid for April. I’ve got some work to do.”

Starting at 7:45 a.m. Thursday off the 10th tee, Woods will see just what kind of strides he’s made since missing the cut on Friday at Riviera, where he fell apart on the back nine with a combination of poor driving, iron play and putting.

“I got exposed there on the back nine with three 3-putts,” he said.

He also didn’t know which way the ball was going off the tee, putting himself in some tough positions to hit greens.

The test doesn’t get any easier at PGA National, which sports 15 holes that have water hazards and plenty of rough to make it a challenge. During the pro-am, Woods hit his driver just six times. He seemed to haven taken away the left side, which plagued him a week ago.

Still, it was a pro-am, a casual round for which Woods rarely grinds.

“It’s usually windy here,” said Rory McIlroy, who won the Honda Classic in 2012 when Woods tied for second. “It looks like it’s going to be breezy for the week, so controlling your ball flight is a big thing. I think being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play, especially with the way the rough is.

“Play out of the fairway. Hitting greens. It’s a ball striker’s golf course. You can’t up-and-down it around here and expect to win. You have to hit fairways. You have to hit greens and you have to just take your chances when they come along.”

All of which Woods struggled to do at Riviera.

He hit 13 of 28 fairways, only 16 of 36 greens. The scrambling that carried him last month at Torrey Pines, where he tied for 23rd, couldn’t sustain him.

Woods returned from California to his Florida home on Saturday after missing the cut at Riviera, and got back on the range Sunday. Wednesday was his first look at the Champions course since he withdrew four years ago.

“I just felt like I needed to continue going down the things I’ve been working on,” he said. I just needed to get back at. It wasn’t very good on Friday.”

Woods has not said his schedule beyond this week. He is expected to play the Arnold Palmer Invitational in three weeks. If he is looking for more starts, the Valspar Championship in two weeks would be a possibility.

He will play the first two rounds with Patton Kizzire and Brandt Snedeker.

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