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The Loop

Tiger Woods returns, as do questions to which answers finally might be forthcoming

November 27, 2016

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It is the silly season, as these months are called in golf, where a handful of identifiable professionals play meaningless golf for meaningful money, redeemable only by the charities they support.

The Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas this week is among them, a field of 18, playing for $3.5 million, each player guaranteed more than $100,000.

Ho hum, were it not for the most prominent of the 18, tournament host Tiger Woods, who, barring another head fake, will be playing his first competitive rounds in more than 15 months.

It’s not the fifth major, but it is likely to garner a substantial audience not otherwise disposed to watching golf with important football on the docket.

Woods, once reliably exceptional, has become an enigma. Who knows what to expect following two microdiscectomy surgeries — one in April, 2014, the other in September, 2015 — and his sudden withdrawal last month from the Safeway Open at which he was to make his competitive return?

“I think he can probably get back to 100 percent of health, but perhaps 100 percent now may not be the same as it was 10, 12 or 15 years ago,” Adam Scott told Jonathan Wong of the Straits Times. “Unfortunately we are all getting older, and after surgeries and all that, you are just not quite the same. I don't know where his 100 percent puts him.

“After such a long layoff he definitely has quite a challenge ahead of him to compete at the highest level again, even though he is Tiger. I’m saying that with the utmost respect, given what he has achieved in the game. But the standard is very high at the top and he has quite a road to travel to get back up there.”

His health is one thing. The health of his game is another. When he withdrew from the Safeway Open, he declared in a statement that he was fit, but called his game “vulnerable and not where it needs to be. It’s not up to my standards, and I don’t think it would be up to yours.”

Woods turns 41 in a month, a number that does not accurately reflect his body’s odometer reading. He has been going after the game hard since his youth and has the battle scars to prove it. They run from his Achilles to his tibia, knee and back, even to his head, the latter the result of myriad swing changes that have slowly eroded the indomitable will that was a hallmark of the strongest mind in the game.

Will he resume his quest to equal Jack Nicklaus’ record 18 majors? Will he even win again? Will his hiatus have alleviated what seemed to have been the chip yips that bedeviled him in 2015? Will his back hold up to the rigors of tournament golf? Will he have adequately grooved his most recent swing change?

Questions, questions and more questions. This week, assuming he plays, will begin to provide some answers.