The spotlight’s on returning Tiger Woods at this week’s World Golf Championships Bridgestone Invitational, where defending champion Hunter Mahan was among the many wondering just what kind of golf the former number one will produce.
“We always used to doubt him, and he’d always prove us wrong,” Mahan said of Woods, who returns to competition after an 11-week absence to let injuries to his left leg heal.
“But this is serious doubt because we have no idea how healthy he is. Who knows? I don’t know. I don’t think anyone knows except him and probably his physicians.”
Even Woods says he doesn’t know precisely what to expect when he tees it up at the elite World Golf Championships event — whether his form and his health will recall the player who has captured seven titles at Firestone or whether he’ll look more like the player who limped out of the Players Championship in May.
“I still haven’t been in a competitive environment yet, so that’s a totally different atmosphere,” said Woods, who hasn’t won a tournament in 22 months.
In addition to getting back in the groove after his injury layoff, Woods will be without long-time caddie Steve Williams, sacked by Woods in July.
Bryon Bell, a boyhood pal of Woods, will carry the bag for 14-time Major champion.
Woods insisted that, as always, his expectation is to win.
Not everyone thinks that’s a realistic aim.
“No one expects him to come out and play well,” US Open champion Rory McIlroy said. “I’m sure he expects himself to come out and play and compete, but given the length of layoff and considering that he’s only been able to hit full shots for the last two weeks or whatever, it would be an unbelievable effort if he was to come back and compete.
“But I think just get through 72 holes and maybe finish top 20 would be a really good effort.”
Expecting to win
England’s World No. 1 Luke Donald, who won the WGC Match Play crown in February, will be paired with Masters champion Charl Schwartzel of South Africa for the first two rounds.
Like most of the top players in the 76-man field, Donald was quizzed about his thoughts on Woods.
“His expectation is to win,” Donald said. “I know coming off injuries and being away from competition — it is tough. When I had my wrist injury, you feel like practicing and preparing away from tournament action. You feel very ready.
“When it comes down to crunch time and playing under competitive circumstances it’s a lot more difficult.”
Woods will play alongside British Open champion Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland, who won here in 2003.
Stewart Cink, winner at Firestone in 2004, is also in a field that includes the last Ryder Cup team members from both America and Europe along with selected winners from six tours around the world and the top 50 in the world rankings.
“This is always a fun week,” Donald said. “It’s a challenging golf course. It’s a good prep week, also, for next week, the PGA. I think you’ll see a lot of people grinding it out on the range a little bit this week in preparation for next week, but also a great tournament to win, as well.” — AFP