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World waits to hear if tiger's roar is as loud as before

Updated: 2016-10-11 07:40
By Agence France-Presse in Los Angeles (China Daily)

All eyes on Woods as he returns from longest layoff of career

Tiger Woods, 14 months removed from his last competitive outing, nearing his 41st birthday and in recovery from multiple back surgeries, still ignites interest like no other golfer.

The 14-time major champion will tee it up on Thursday at Silverado Resort in Napa, California, in his first competitive start since a 10th-place finish at the Wyndham Championship on Aug 23, 2015.

The normally low-key Safeway Open, start of the PGA Tour's 2016-17 season, is suddenly the center of the golfing universe.

 World waits to hear if tiger's roar is as loud as before

Team USA vice-captain Tiger Woods celebrates winning the Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, on Oct 2. Sam Greenwood / Getty Images / AFP

"I'm sort of glad I'm not there that week," Northern Ireland's Rory McIlroy said when Woods last month announced the projected timetable for his return. "It's going to be a bit of a circus."

Compared to 45 media outlets credentialed for the tournament last year, 106 are accredited this year, with organizers doubling the size of the media center.

A similar jump in ticket sales was expected, with some reports suggesting fans could be treated to a superstar pairing of Woods and five-time major winner Phil Mickelson in the opening rounds.

Not that Woods needs any help to draw a spotlight, and rampant speculation on just where his game might be after more than a year of painstaking rehabilitation.

"We've played nine holes together. He's pounding it a mile and flushing everything ... his trajectory and ball flight are like the Tiger we knew 15 years ago," Sweden's Jesper Parnevik told Golf Digest last week.

"Comebacks are never a sure thing, but something tells me his might be spectacular."

Woods, who will turn 41 on Dec 30, might settle for steady, with no setbacks.

His agent slammed reports in February that Woods' rehabilitation wasn't going well, and that his condition had deteriorated.

In May, promoting the National tournament he hosts, Woods insisted he was making progress - but plunked three shots in the water trying to reach the green of Congressional's par-three 10th.

Woods said then that he'd had to adapt to the reality his body is no longer able to support eight or 10 hours of practice a day, or daily runs of five or six miles.

Still, he insisted in June: "I can play with these guys. I know I still can. I just need to get healthy enough where I can do it on a regular basis."

On Thursday, Woods and the rest of the world will begin to find out if he has achieved that level of fitness.

Although he's been sidelined before by various ankle, knee and leg injuries, not to mention the notorious collapse of his marriage amid revelations of his infidelity - this 14-month hiatus is the longest of Woods' career.

He hasn't won since the 2013 WGC Bridgestone Invitational, the 79th PGA Tour title of his career, leaving him three shy of the record held by Sam Snead.

Aura and atmosphere

His most recent major title came on one of those bum knees at the 2008 US Open at Torrey Pines, and since then he's looked less and less likely to break the record of 18 majors won by Jack Nicklaus.

The man who reigned at No 1 for 683 weeks isn't even in the top 700 now.

Doesn't matter, says McIlroy.

"Tiger brings an aura and an atmosphere to a tournament that no one else in golf can bring," said McIlroy, who like everyone else is eager to see what Woods will produce next.

"It's different trying to get back from an injury at 40 years old than it is when you're in your 20s or early 30s," McIlroy said.

"I think that's why it's been over a year since we have seen him on a golf course; it takes longer to reach that level.

"It would be great to see him give it one last shot ... hopefully he can get back on the course and stay healthy for a prolonged period of time and give it one last go."

Silverado offers a challenging layout, but does not rank among the tour's toughest.

Profile of a legend

Factfile on Tiger Woods, the 14-time major winner scheduled to make his return at the Safeway Open on Thursday after a 14-month injury absence:

Born: Dec 30, 1975

Birthplace: Cypress, California

Height: 6-foot-1

Turned professional: 1996

Career US PGA Tour wins: 79

Major titles - 14

(Masters: 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005; US Open 2000, 2002, 2008; British Open 2000, 2005, 2006; PGA Championship 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007)

PGA Tour Player of the Year: 11 (1997, 1999-2003, 2005-07, 2009, 2013)

PGA Tour Money Leader: 10 (1997, 1999-2002, 2005-07, 2009, 2013)

Highest World Ranking: 1 (record 683 weeks)

(China Daily 10/11/2016 page22)

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