PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. — The last we saw of Tiger Woods at the Champions Course at PGA National Resort and Spa, he was walking gingerly to his car after withdrawing after 13 holes in the final round of the 2014 Honda Classic due to back spasms.
Despite the windswept track featuring water on 15 of 18 holes, thin fairways and penalizing bunkers and rough, Woods said he’s missed the old place ahead of Thursday’s start of the latest running of the Honda Classic.
“It’s been a while since I’ve played this event and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Woods, who lives a short drive away in Jupiter. “It's nice to be home and sleeping in my own bed.”
Woods also is getting more comfortable with the demands of the PGA Tour in his latest comeback from a long layoff. While he was back in his own bed last Saturday after missing the cut by four shots in last week’s Genesis Open north of Los Angeles, his latest test, however disappointing, wasn’t a total washout.
“I'm starting to get that feeling again of playing tournament golf, where you know each and every shot counts,” Woods said Wednesday after his pro-am round. “I'm looking at where I need to putt the golf ball. I'm looking at forecasts. Before, you're at home, who cares where the wind is coming from; who cares what the forecast is the next couple days. But now, playing tournament golf, I'm starting to get into that flow again.
“I missed it, and it's becoming familiar again.”
Trouble is, Woods has been missing far too many shots since he returned to competitive golf after a year of recovery following spinal fusion surgery, the fourth surgical procedure on his back since 2014.
He’s tempered his expectations, especially considering the lengthy absence. But he has still expected more from himself in his two PGA Tour starts this year — a tie for 23rd in the Farmers Insurance Open in January and the missed cut last week. The winner of 14 majors and 79 Tour titles has been woeful with the driver, hitting just 30 of 84 fairways in regulation, and erratic with his irons, hitting just 58 of 108 greens in regulation. And last week, his putter let him down — he took 32 putts, including three three-putts, in his second round.
Patience, for now, is his 15th club as he continues to learn what he can and can’t do with his new body, all the while his eye on April and the Masters, the first major championship of the season.
“I'm so happy I'm not in pain anymore, but I'm fused, so it's a little bit different,” he said. “I'm still learning what that feels like under the gun. Some of my shots, they are not the same as they used to be. That part, I'm going to have to learn. It's not something that I'm used to because I've never felt like this before, but this is the new norm.”
Thus, with each swing, each hole, each round, Woods is building toward the Masters. The Honda Classic, with its demanding course and challenging field including defending champion Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Sergio Garcia, offers a stern next step for Woods. But he said he’s not feeling rushed in his return to the game and journey to Magnolia Lane.
“I'm just learning how to play tournament golf again, and unfortunately I've made some of my mistakes, and that's just part of it,” he said. “As far as catch-up mode for the Masters, no, 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.”