NEW PROVIDENCE, Bahamas -- Tiger Woods spent Monday morning playing nine holes alongside retired baseball greats Derek Jeter and Tino Martinez.
The careers of Jeter and Martinez are over, but Woods is looking for one last, great chapter to his.
“I hit it good today,” the 14-time major winner and former World No. 1 said.
It has been 15 months since Woods, now No. 898 in the world, last played competitively, and he has endured three back surgeries since March 2014, but you wouldn’t know it by watching him operate on a windswept morning in paradise. As casual of a setting as it was, Woods displayed power and control off the tee and, at times, precision with his irons.
“We’ve played today in a 20-mph plus breeze and it’s quite an unforgiving wind, but the quality of Tiger’s play has been pretty good,” Justin Rose said from the Hero World Challenge, an event that benefits Woods’ foundation and will be the host’s first tournament since the Wyndham Championship in August 2015.
Rose was coming off seven weeks rest but his game, on occasion, looked the rustier of the two. More than once Woods outdrove Rose, who joined along on Monday in what ended up being a fivesome for nine holes at Albany, where an elite 18-man field is assembled this week.
In earnest, though, Woods’ preparation began long before Monday. He was scheduled to play earlier this fall in California and Turkey but withdrew from those events because he said his game wasn’t ready.
This week, Woods played nine holes Saturday at Albany and a day later grinded out a two-hour range session in which he hit a number of different shots on command.
“If [Tiger] wanted to test his game then these conditions, given as tough as they are, is a good test,” Rose continued. “He’s clearly driven the ball very, very well.”
Woods did so using a new driver (TaylorMade) and a ball (Bridgestone) with Nike having gotten out of the equipment business earlier this year. The former had him consulting Rose, a longtime TaylorMade player, during their warm-up on the range to find a setup he liked with the adjustable club. Once Woods had what he liked, he looked comfortable again.
But new equipment isn’t the only adjustment Woods has had to make. He will turn 41 at the end of next month and he knows his body can’t do what it once did.
After the long range session on Sunday, Woods recovered in a hot tub and got other treatment on his surgically repaired left knee and battered back. He was also in the gym prior to his round on Monday.
“I was talking to Jetes about it and Tino. How long did it take them to get ready for each game?” Woods said. “And it took them from three-to-four hours as they got older. And it’s the same thing for me. I was in the gym with [Rose], and he’s in there doing the same thing. He’s 36 now, and it takes him an hour, hour and a half, just to be able to go and hit balls.
“You have to activate the muscles. . . . We miss the days going to the first tee and hitting a drive 300 yards with a balata ball and a persimmon driver. You can’t do that anymore.”
The difference of course between Jeter and Woods is that a golfer’s career can span much longer than that of most sports. Although Jeter made his debut for the Yankees the year before Woods turned pro, he retired following the 2014 season. Basketball’s Kobe Bryant and Tim Duncan followed a similar timeline.
Golf, meanwhile, is littered with players who have competed -- and won -- into their 40s and beyond. Last year, Davis Love III won the Wyndham Championship at age 51.
“You can play different ways and still win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “You can’t do that in football or baseball or basketball.”
There's one other thing that Woods gets to do that Jeter and Martinez don’t, and it has him as excited and nervous as he has been in a long time.
Said Woods, “I get to keep playing.”