NASSAU, Bahamas — The Bahamas is easy lifting for Tiger Woods. It is a short plane trip from his South Florida home. The yacht meets him in the Albany Golf Club marina for comfort. He has his own place on site. And the golf course affords him an excellent place to practice. In peace.
The venue is now in its fifth year as the site for his annual Hero World Challenge, an 18-player tournament that benefits Woods’ foundation, and it’s where Woods has provided some telling moments over the past four years: from a doom-and-gloom news conference in 2015, when he wasn’t playing, to the guarded optimism he showed just two years ago, when he tied for ninth and launched his improbable comeback from back surgery.
Now ranked seventh in the world, playing again this week for the first time since winning his 82nd PGA Tour title at the Zozo Championship in October, Woods gets back to work with the other 10 members of the Presidents Cup team he will captain just over a week from now in Australia.
And therein lies the next question for Woods, who will not only play competitive golf in consecutive weeks for one of the rare times this year, but he also has hosting duties this week in the Bahamas, captain duties next week at Royal Melbourne and duties of simply the everyday issues of being … Tiger Woods.
The last time Woods played consecutive weeks didn’t go so well. And it really wasn’t all that much golf. Woods withdrew following the first round of the Northern Trust in early August, citing an oblique injury. The following week he competed in the BMW Championship — he played just nine holes in the pro-am — and tied for 37th to end his season and miss qualifying for the Tour Championship.
A few days later, he had surgery on his left knee to remove cartilage and began the process of putting his body and game back together, culminating with that surprising win in Japan at the Zozo Championship.
“Because I didn’t qualify for the Tour Championship, I was able to have my knee procedure a week early, which gave me an extra week to get ready for Zozo,” Woods said. “It all worked out. The fact that I had to get through all the different PT exercises, scar tissue and get mobile, get ready, get my velocity back up again and recover.
“The flight time to Japan, it’s not a short one. How was I going to recover and be ready to play? And everything came together, and I was able to play well for that one week.”
Now Woods faces two weeks in a row, and a longer trip from Nassau to Melbourne, where he’ll immediately be thrust into his captain’s role and assessing how much he will play in the Presidents Cup, which begins Dec. 12.
Prior to the Northern Trust/BMW tournaments, the only time this year Woods competed in consecutive weeks was when he tied for 15th at the Genesis Open near Los Angeles and then tied for 10th the following week at the WGC-Mexico Championship back in February.
The weather was cold and damp at Riviera — and there were rain delays — and although Woods had a good tournament in Mexico, he came away with a neck strain that kept him from competing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational two weeks later.
Woods seemed to show no ill effects after that, contending at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play before winning the Masters. It was the next six events in which Woods’ form fell off as back stiffness — and, as we later learned, knee issues — led to just a single top-10 finish, as well as two missed cuts and a withdrawal.
Given how he looked in Japan, and the subsequent boost to his health, it would seem he is in a far better position to play in back-to-back weeks.
Still, it doesn’t take much to hearken back to September 2018, when Woods looked lifeless at the Ryder Cup in France following his Tour Championship victory in Atlanta. The same fire and determination were gone in Paris as Woods went 0-4 in the U.S. defeat.
While the Hero World Challenge is nowhere near the Tour Championship, it is a busy week for Woods. And that is a long trip to Australia — some 9,800 miles. Woods and the rest of the team will land Monday morning Australia time after leaving the Bahamas on Saturday evening. And then they go right to work on getting over a 16-hour time change.
“Last year was a bit different because it was all the [FedEx Cup] playoff events and the heat that we played in, and then hopping on a flight [in Atlanta] and going straight to Paris,” Woods said. “And also, I think the emotional stress and the emotional release of finally winning an event coming back from my back surgery … that took a toll on me a bit.
“So this is a totally different animal. I’m playing the Hero World Challenge, not a Tour event, even though we have world ranking points. It’s a very busy week. I do have some duties there at night, but overall, it’s a very easy week.
“And then our flight down to Oz will be easy — just long.”
The Hero is not an official PGA Tour event, but those world ranking points could prove valuable to Woods as it pertains to something such as the 2020 Olympics — whose cutoff is June 22. Last year, Jon Rahm earned 48 ranking points for his victory in the Bahamas, which is more than Justin Rose earned for capturing the Farmers Insurance Open, for example.
And the Albany course is not particularly daunting, with no early tee times and a fairly benign setup that should allow for a somewhat stress-free golf experience for Woods. He is also in complete control to manage his own golf the following week, where he is obligated to play only one match prior to Sunday’s singles.
Still, it will be two straight weeks, with a long trip between events. How Woods fares physically will be an important factor over the next two weeks.