The Hero World Challenge is the first week back at school for Tiger Woods, and he has a new teacher.
He probably isn't worried about finding a seat at the lunch table, but Woods has to be anxious to see what four months of recuperation from a back injury -- and two months of work with instructor Chris Como -- produces in competition.
He's not the only one interested. The four-day, no-cut, 18-man charity event at Woods' Isleworth home course will be the most-watched silly season tournament in recent history.
How different will Woods look -- both physically and mechanically -- from the last time we saw him, moving gingerly around Valhalla G.C. at the PGA Championship in August? What will Tiger consider to be a good result come Sunday afternoon?
Hank Haney is familiar with all the pieces of this puzzle -- from Isleworth, where he watched Woods play hundreds of practice rounds as his coach from 2004 to 2010, to the mechanics of rebuilding a swing and recovering from serious injuries.
"It's going to be an interesting week to watch," says Haney, who had his own public debut as Woods' coach at Bay Hill in March 2004. "His body looks different, and he says he's able to practice his normal amount now. That means at least his short game should be different. Does he try to shape shots? Will he play some draws? We could see a lot of different things, and there will probably be more to come."
Como's "consultancy" is still in its early days, but Woods' driver will get plenty of scrutiny right out of the gate -- as it did during the Haney and Sean Foley administrations. "I watched him hit 500 tee shots on Isleworth's first hole. On 499 of them, he hit driver," says Haney of the 400-yard par 4. "But at the Tavistock Cup, he pulled out a 3-wood and hit that instead. I asked him about it, and he said it was because the hole got tight down there.
"Tiger Woods' great shots will always be great," Haney says. "It's the foul balls he has to get shored up. Do those still cause a fear that makes him club down or hit a different shot? If it's me, I want to see what that go-to shot is when he gets to one of the holes where he isn't comfortable off the tee, like on 3 or 8 or 9 or 12, when there's water and OB in play."
Top 50 teacher Mike Adams believes Woods is getting the right kind of guidance from Como -- who worked under both Adams and Haney and has a master's degree in biomechanics. Injury will be the wildcard. "Tiger is a warrior, and if his body responds and he's able to practice like he used to, we'll see the Tiger of old return," says Adams, who is based at Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone, N.J. "He has a lot left in the tank, and Chris Como is a terrific teacher who will get his game back on track."
Both Haney and Adams agree that an early, crucial step will be transitioning what he does on the range to the course. "I've seen it said that he hits it great on the range and then goes on the course and struggles," Haney says. "When he goes out there this week, how soon will he fall back to a 'go-to' shot?"
Adams says it's a matter of returning to playing golf, versus thinking golf swing. "When that returns, he'll win multiple times."
Haney believes the first one will come as soon as this week.
"There is no home-course advantage as big as the one Tiger has at Isleworth," Haney says. "He knows these greens so well, and knows where you can hit it on every hole. It's a huge tournament for him, and I think if he doesn't show marked improvement it's a big blow for him. But I think he will. I think he's going to go out and win."