Hero World Challenge: Tiger returns to competition

This week Tiger’s Hero World Challenge begins with a new sponsor and a new venue. Last year it was Northwestern Mutual Life at its 15-year home at Sherwood Country Club in Los Angeles and this year it’s Hero MotoCorp at Isleworth Country Club in Orlando.

Hero, the largest motorcycle and scooter manufacturer in the world, is fully engaged in breaking out beyond its home in India and looking to partner with a huge international star to help promote them.

The move from Sherwood was more about finding a Florida venue so that the players wouldn’t have to travel out to California. Isleworth was an obvious choice because Tiger used to live there. It also helped beef up the pro-am for the tournament because it was easy to recruit local players like Retief Goosen, Trevor Immelman, Chris DiMarco and John Cook to play just with the pro-am teams. 

Here’s how the 18-man field was assembled:

• 2013 champion (Zach Johnson)
• Winners of the four 2014 majors
• Top 11 available in the World Golf Rankings through Sept. 14
• Two sponsor exemptions from top 50 of the rankings through Sept. 14
• To complete field of 18, next available in the rankings through Sept. 14

Patrick Reed was the last man in the field at 27th in the rankings when Jim Furyk withdrew with back issues. Players eligible to play who didn’t were all international players who had scheduling conflicts with their home tours or tournaments (e.g., Adam Scott playing in the Australian PGA Championship).

All of that said, as always, the spotlight will be on Tiger who hasn’t played since September while he rehabbed his back, got his body stronger, rethought the direction of his swing and hired a compatible coach in Chris Como to help him get there faster.

So his Wednesday pro-am round was very helpful in his recovery process. We forget that these guys all ride in carts too when they’re home practicing:

“Oh, it’s the same thing that I been doing.  Only difference is actually walking, walking the golf course.  Haven’t done that since the PGA. That one part was a little bit different.”

It was just a pro-am, but there appeared to be no tentativeness and he was able to swing at full speed with no difficulty:

“Yeah, that is where I’ve been.  That’s the neat thing.  I took that much time off right after the PGA and built up my body and made a few adjustments on my swing and hit some good shots today.”

And while pro-ams aren’t the “real deal,” they do give a player a chance to get some quality work done in a competitive situation:

“Yeah, I felt like I really needed today though.  I wanted to do some more work on the golf course yesterday afternoon, but the rain canceled that out a little bit.”

“It was nice to get out there today and play and see what the greens are.  They’re a lot slower than they were two days ago with all the rain.  I got to do some work today.  Didn’t quite have the speed.  Be a little slower greens.”

Isleworth has alternately hosted the Tavistock Cup with Lake Nona, also in Orlando and home to many Tour players. And it is not an easy course:

“No, this is a hard golf course.  I think it’s more interesting that we play some of the up tees this week.  We’re playing from some of the Tavistock locations that we have during the Cup.  We’re used to just driving the back and bombs away and go play.”

“For instance, like No. 3, that bunker is never in play up the left side.  You can’t get to it.  Now that the tees are up, that’s in play and the trees on the right are in play.”

“So there are some holes for us as members that we’ve got to make a few adjustments.”

But even with all of that, nothing has changed in his commitment entering the tournament: to win it:

“Obviously or I wouldn’t enter.”

Tiger goes off with Jason Day at 12:15 pm (Eastern). The Golf Channel coverage begins at 2:00 pm for three hours.

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