USGA CHAMPIONS
Woods Returns to Hero’s Welcome December 4, 2017 By David Shefter, USGA

Tiger Woods had a promising performance in the Bahamas, and is hoping to play in his first U.S. Open since 2015. (USGA/J.D. Cuban)

December golf doesn’t generally generate a lot of buzz in the mainstream sports world. But that wasn’t the case this past week when 14-time major champion Tiger Woods returned from a 301-day layoff following his fourth back surgery. Woods, a nine-time USGA champion whose last competitive round had been at the Dubai Desert Classic in February, decided that the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, an event that benefits his foundation, was the right time to test his skills against 17 other world-class players, all of whom were ranked No. 32 or higher in the Official World Golf Ranking (OWGR).

While Woods, who entered the week No. 1,199 in the OWGR, tied for ninth, 10 strokes behind winner Rickie Fowler, his performance – he briefly held the lead during the second round – over the four days provided plenty of positive signs as he gears up for 2018.

“I had the adrenaline going and overall I’m very pleased,” said Woods, whose last major championship victory was in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines. “I knew I was going to be able to play all four rounds, that wasn't going to be an issue. The issue was how was my scoring going to be, how was my feel, how am I going to get used to the adrenaline in my system for the first time in a while.” 

As long as his health continues on an upward tick, Woods’ schedule will likely include the 118th U.S. Open, June 14-17, at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y.,, the site where he made his first U.S. Open start in 1995. Woods, coming off his first of three consecutive U.S. Amateur triumphs, was forced to withdraw that week after suffering a wrist injury during the second round, but he did go on to claim three U.S. Open titles.

 “I think we’re going to sit down here and we’re going to figure out what’s the best way for me to build my schedule for the major championships,” said Woods after carding a 4-under 68 on Sunday to post a 72-hole total of 8-under 280.Woods’ riveting start to the Hero World Challenge had many people reminiscing about his past dominance. He opened with a 69 on Thursday and backed it up with a Friday 68. But he struggled in the breezy conditions on Saturday, shooting a 75, on a day when nobody in the elite field broke 70, before rallying with a strong finish on Sunday.

 “I was still good with my irons, I drove it pretty well all week, made some good putts. I showed some good signs, I hit some really good shots out there and (it’s) a bright future.”

Added Fowler, who started with seven straight birdies on his way to a closing 61 to win by four strokes over 54-hole leader Charley Hoffman: “If his [health] holds up and he keeps swinging the way he does, there's no doubt that he can go out and win. Tiger's still going to have that similar effect when you see his name on the board coming down the last nine holes and being in the mix. You know he’s not scared. He’s done it, he’s been there before.

“I think we're all looking forward to having the chance to play with Tiger down the stretch.”

Five other USGA champions were in the Hero field, with 2015 U.S. Open champion Jordan Spieth topping that group with a tie for third at 12-under 276. Justin Rose, the 2013 U.S. Open champion, tied for fifth and 1997 U.S. Amateur champion Matt Kuchar shared ninth with Woods. Dustin Johnson and Brooks Koepka, the last two U.S. Open champions, finished tied for 14th, and 18th, respectively.

Argentina Bound

Four USGA champions have been chosen by the USGA to represent the United States in the South American Amateur next month at Martindale Country Club in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Jan. 13-16. Scott Harvey and Matt Parziale, winners of the 2014 and 2017 U.S. Mid-Amateur, respectively, will join U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur champions Julia Potter (2013 and 2016) and Kelsey Chugg (2017) to compete in the 72-hole, stroke-play competition. Harvey, who competed in this year’s U.S. Open and was a member of the 2015 USA Walker Cup Team, won the men’s event in 2015.

Left to right: Matt Parziale, Kelsey Chugg, Julia Potter, Scott Harvey. (USGA/Donna Brannigan)

Card Games

The LPGA Tour conducted its final stage of Qualifying School in Daytona Beach, Fla., this past week, to determine playing privileges for the 2018 season.

Southern Californian Brianna Do, the 2011 U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links champion, was the lone USGA champion to finish among the top 20 to garner full status. Do, 27, carded a final-round 68 on the Hills Course at LPGA International to tie for 16th in the 90-hole competition. Her 3-under-par total of 357 was nine strokes back of medalist and 2016 U.S. Women’s Amateur quarterfinalist Nasa Hataoka, of Japan.

Another Southern Californian, 2013 U.S. Girls’ Junior champion Gabriella Then, made the 72-hole cut, but came up three strokes short of earning a conditional card.

The low 20 players earned full status, with the next 29 garnering conditional cards. The remaining players in the field of 165 will have Symetra Tour status for 2018.

David Shefter is a senior staff writer for the USGA. Email him at dshefter@usga.org.

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