7 Things To Watch For During Tiger's Return

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7 Things To Watch For During Tiger's Return

January 26, 2015

Photo By: David Cannon/Getty Images

Photo By: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Photo By: Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Photo By: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

Photo By: Scott Halleran/Getty Images

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Photo By: Stan Badz/PGA TOUR/Getty Images

Chipping

Everybody expected Tiger to show some rust when he came back late last year to the Hero World Challenge. What nobody expected was disastrous chipping. Woods flubbed 10 chips, sprouting conversations including the dreaded "y" word. He says he's cleaned up his short game with dedicated practice at home the last six weeks. It should be clear right away if that's true.

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Driver

Woods' full swing under new swing consultant Chris Como looked loose and free in its debut, but the on-course results with the driver were mixed. He hit his very first tee shot out of bounds, and backed off to 3-wood on some holes where he customarily hits driver. The frequency he hits driver in Phoenix is directly related to his comfort level. If he's struggling, the big miss will be a high block far right.

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Putting

The dirty little secret about Woods' lost 2014 season wasn't just his back and swing problems. If he had played enough rounds to qualify, his putting average would have ranked him outside the top 100. Tiger isn't as long as the tour's biggest hitters anymore, and any return to major championship form will require him to putt at least mostly like he did in 2013, when he won five times.

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Wedge Distance Control

The two biggest weaknesses in Woods' game have always been driver accuracy and distance control with his wedges. How he does with the driver is still an open question, but he showed positive signs with his shortest clubs at the Hero World Challenge. The par-5s at TPC Scottsdale are all reachable in two after decent tee shots -- and set up for flip wedges if he's playing conservatively. The 17th is a driveable par-4 that also leaves plenty of offspeed wedge approaches.

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Staying Power

Just past his 39th birthday, Woods is still an imposing physical specimen, but his body looks different in 2015 than it did at the beginning of last season. He's still muscular but much leaner, and he says he's playing completely pain free. But he's still coming off major back surgery and long-term problems with his left knee. Four pain-free rounds at full competitive speed will answer a lot of questions.

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The 16th Hole

Woods has one of the marquee pairings in the first two rounds, playing with young guns Patrick Reed and Jordan Spieth. Spieth is as mild-mannered as they come, but Reed won't hesitate to rile up the crowd. Watch for Woods' interaction with the crowd at the fabled 16th tee and its stadium setting. At his competitive best, Woods embraces the crowd and feeds off the energy -- even if it's aimed at one his playing partners. Woods famously aced the 16th in 1997 and gestured to the crowd to raise the roof. They're certainly ready to do it again.

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The 19th Hole

If Woods is feeling good about his game, he'll stick around for at least 10 or 15 minutes of questions after his round -- even if he isn't in the hunt. During the most terse times in 2014, his interaction with the media consisted of two or three questions on his way to player parking. He was loose and laughing in his early week press conference in Phoenix, and says he's looking forward to playing. It's easier to stay that way after a 66 than it is following a 74.

Photo By: Stan Badz/PGA TOUR/Getty Images

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