The casual offseason event is a reward for top players but for Tiger Woods it often provides a glimpse into the state of his game.
For the first time since July 15, when he walked across the Swilcan Bridge at the Old Course and waved his cap to thousands of spectators lining the 18th hole at St. Andrews, Tiger Woods returns to competition this week.
The total number of days between final putt and first tee shot will be 138. It’s an all-too-familiar occurrence in this part of the career for Woods, who turns 47 on Dec. 30.
And the Albany course in Nassau, Bahamas, has become a rather strange dateline in the saga that has seen so many ups and downs over the past decade. After years in Southern California and a one-year stopover in Orlando, the Hero World Challenge, founded by Woods and his late father, Earl, in 1999, relocated in 2015 to a place far removed from the rigors of competitive golf.
Woods has a home at Albany and can park his yacht in a nearby marina. It’s also been a place he could work on his game in relative solitude.
The tournament is meant as a year-end reward for the top players in the game with a nice purse and an easygoing vibe. It began as the first of several fundraising initiatives for Woods’ foundation.
In recent years, it also has become the measuring stick for Woods and his progress. A rundown:
2015: The Hero moved to the Bahamas for the first time and Woods was a hobbled host. Two microdiscectomy surgeries in the fall made it hard for him to move. At a pre-tournament news conference, Woods—who had not played since August and was about to sit out an entire year—sounded like his career might be over. “I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel,’’ he said.
2016: Woods made a much-anticipated return, having missed the entire year in 2016 while attempting to come back. During a pre-tournament range session in which Woods looked surprisingly he good, he quipped: “I’m not dead yet.” He finished 15th out of 18 players with a Sunday 76, but his Friday 65 had Albany buzzing. It was a promising result. But less than two months later, Woods missed the cut at Torrey Pines, then went all the way to Dubai to play just one round. He was done for the year.
2017: Nobody knew what to expect after Woods had a spinal fusion surgery in April that meant he could not swing a club for six months. As an assistant at the Presidents Cup in September, Woods said, “I don’t know what my future holds.” But he soon was hitting balls, releasing short video teases on Twitter, and gearing up for another comeback. He finished tied for ninth, 10 shots back of winner Rickie Fowler, done in a by a third-round 75. But the rest of the golf looked great and there was guarded hope for what was ahead in 2018.
2018: With nothing to prove after an incredibly successful and exhausting comeback, Woods could put the grind aside and serve as tournament host and not worry so much about his golf. He had contended in two major championships, the British Open and the PGA, and won the Tour Championship for his 80th PGA Tour title. It was his first win in five years. He then played (poorly) at the Ryder Cup and was due for a rest. He finished 17th out of 18 players, but nobody cared as everyone was looking ahead to 2019.