Tiger ails on back 9 again; Spieth, Scheffler lead

Tiger gets a nice ovation after sinking this pretty putt (0:35)

Tiger Woods lips in a long birdie putt on the 17th hole to break a rough stretch at the Hero World Challenge. (0:35)

  • Associated Press

Dec 1, 2023, 05:16 PM ET

NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods opened with four birdies in seven holes. The closing stretch was another struggle Friday in the Hero World Challenge, which included a putt that went off the green and into the bunker.

It added to a 2-under 70 that left Woods 10 shots behind Scottie Scheffler and Jordan Spieth but still getting around just fine at Albany and slowly getting back into the groove.

But the back nine isn’t helping. Woods shot 39 on the back in the opening round, and he shot 38 on Friday with a 30-foot birdie putt on the par-3 17th.

For Woods, there wasn’t a great mystery why he wasn’t finishing better.

“Maybe because I haven’t played in a while,” he said with a laugh.

This is his first tournament since he withdrew before finishing his third round at the rain-delayed Masters in April, and he had ankle fusion surgery a few weeks later. Woods hasn’t finished 72 holes since the 2022 Masters.

“I’m rusty,” he said. “This golf course will bring that out of you. You can run the tables here or go the other way. Unfortunately, I haven’t finished off my rounds the way I’d like to.”

Scheffler had eight birdies on a day suited for good scoring. He lost the lead on No. 18 when he went from the rough to a waste area behind the hole, his ball in a slight depression. He did well to get it out to 15 feet but missed the par putt.

“As long as you can keep it out of trouble, you’re going to play well,” Scheffler said.

Spieth had eagle putts on four holes — two of them par-4s — didn’t miss a fairway and managed a relatively boring round, at least compared to Thursday when he made only five pars. This time he was bogey-free for a 67.

Scheffler and Spieth were at 9-under 135, one shot ahead of Open champion Brian Harman, who shot 31 on the back nine to salvage a 69.

For Woods, the trouble again came on the par-5 15th hole, where he took double bogey in the first round after trying to chop it out of a bush in the sandy soil. This time, he piped his drive and had only a 9-iron to the green. But he pulled it into a bunker, leaving little green between him and the hole, and blasted it out to 35 feet.

That wasn’t the problem. His putt was too firm, racing by the hole, off the green and back into the bunker. He had to make a 15-footer to escape with bogey.

Woods once hit a putt off the 13th green into a tributary of Rae’s Creek at the Masters. But he couldn’t recall hitting a putt into the bunker.

“That was not a good putt,” he said. “It was downwind, and I hit it way too hard. It got going on the wind and got going on the grain and was gone. I was obviously ticked. At the end of the day, it was better than yesterday.”

He also had a three-putt from inside 15 feet for bogey on the 13th, missed a short birdie chance on the reachable par-4 14th and dropped a shot on the 16th, the toughest at Albany.

Woods was 5 shots better than his opening round, though still out of the mix in 15th place in the 20-man field.

“I think it’s just trying to get my feels back and the mindset over a shot and how many things run through my mind of hitting the shot the right trajectory, the right window, the right shape, the right distance,” he said. “I did a better job on that today, and I’m sure I’ll do a better job of that tomorrow.

“The more rounds and more reps I can get under my belt competitively, I think those things will start coming back.”