5 Takeaways from Tiger Woods' Return to the PGA Tour

Ben Alberstadt@benalberstadtFeatured ColumnistDecember 8, 2014

5 Takeaways from Tiger Woods' Return to the PGA Tour

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    Scott Halleran/Getty Images

    Another period of Tiger Woods-lessness on the PGA Tour came to an end at the Hero World Challenge; the results were decidedly better than his returns from layoff earlier in the year. 

    Woods withdrew from the Honda Classic in March after a month off and missed the cut at the Quicken Loans National following back surgery after the WGC-Cadillac Championship. Following that, he finished 69th at the Open Championship, withdrew from the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and missed the cut at the PGA Championship to round out the worst season of his professional career. 

    Thus, expectations were low following the four-month layoff. And while he played poorly on the whole at Isleworth, four rounds free of back pain signify a huge win for El Tigre this week.

    Tiger's back is OK. That's the big takeaway from the Hero World Challenge and the point of note heading into 2015. We're not returning to the land of microdiscectomies and dislodged sacrums. 

    What else can we take away from Tiger Woods' last-place finish at the tournament that benefits his foundation?

    Click through to see. 

Tiger Woods Is a Still a Tough Cookie

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    Willie J. Allen/Associated Press

    Tiger Woods has a reputation as one of the toughest competitors in any sport. His tremendous feat of will at the 2008 U.S. Open, when he captured the tournament in an 18-hole Monday playoff on a broken leg, is emblematic of the golfer's supreme determination. 

    We've seen Woods fight through injury and sickness in the past. The third round of the Hero World Challenge, however, marked the first time we've seen the 38-year-old professional golfer dry-heave and vomit on the golf course (we'd be fine if it were the last). 

    Woods endured and posted a three-under 69 Saturday, saying, “It wasn’t easy. I fought hard. Spent all I had" (per The Score). 

    While Woods may never be the dominant performer he was through most of the 2000s, he's still as tough and stubborn as they come on tour.  

Tiger's Short Game Needs a Bit of Work

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    Watch the video above. 

    Did you ever think you would see Tiger Woods, arguably the greatest golfer of all time, flubbing chip shots like a 25-handicapper out for an afternoon round at the local muni? 

    The Striped One duffed no fewer than four shots around the green during his miserable opening-round 77. 

    He continued the theme all week long: leaving pitches short, struggling mightily with distance control on wedge shots from the tightly mowed areas around Isleworth's putting surfaces. 

    Woods' explanation (per Sky Sports):

    I just flubbed them. I felt comfortable on a lot of the chip shots this week as I was playing practice rounds off the tighter spots. But when it got a little grainier, it just wasn't as good as I needed it to be.

    He stated further that he'll need to practice his pitching and chipping. 

    Indeed. 

Sick Tiger of '14-'15 Better Than Hurt Tiger of '13'-'14

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    Willie J. Allen/Associated Press

    Tiger Woods returned from a nearly four month layoff at the Hero World Challenge. The return followed dismal play at the Quicken Loans National, the Open Championship, WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and PGA Championship. The latter two events were marred by issues with a dislodged sacrum. 

    Point is, Tiger was either hurt, playing poorly or both for most of 2014. 

    At the Hero World Challenge, he dealt with two afflictions: some sort of a virus that had him feverish and dry-heaving and a more sinister affliction: the yips (at least with wedge in hand). 

    Even so, after a miserable opening-round 77, Woods fired three respectable rounds (70, 69, 72) to finish at even par for the tournament. He only finished at even par or better in two of the seven tournaments he teed it up in during the 2013-2014 season. 

    Thus, the wedge-chunking, chunk-blowing, new pupil of Chris Como is an improvement from Sean Foley's back injury-addled student (in a very small sample). 

    Fans should be encouraged and interested to see the golf Woods plays once he straightens out his chipping issues, has more time with Como and isn't violently ill. 

Tiger's Back Issues Appear to Be Behind Him

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    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    As was stated in the intro: The most important Woods-related takeaway from the Hero World challenge is Woods' back is OK. 

    Woods said he enjoyed "playing tournament golf without being in pain, without having to call my physio every day or having to put out fires with my body" (per ESPN's Bob Harig). 

    As it stands right now, one of the primary narratives of the 2014-2015 PGA Tour season will be whether or not a 38-year-old Tiger Woods with a new swing coach can rediscover his past form. Will he be able to win his 15th major and edge closer to Jack Nicklaus' record? 

    Whether you love or hate Tiger Woods, it's a much better story than one focused on the Woods' health and the structural integrity of his back. 

There's Still a Long Way to Go

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    Willie J. Allen/Associated Press

    Even with the positives Tiger can take away from the week—namely a healthy back and decent play from the tee and fairway—there's still a long way to to go. 

    Woods will likely next compete at the Farmers Insurance Open at his beloved Torrey Pines at the beginning of February. That gives him nearly two months of practice. 

    He'll likely play four or five events prior to the Masters. 

    There's a lot of work to be done between now and the beginning of April if he's going to have a chance at winning his fifth green jacket and 15th career major.