Harmon - Never Say Never With Tiger Woods, He'll Prove You Wrong
How will Tiger Woods fare on his return to professional golf?
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At this week's Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods make's his long-awaited comeback after 15 months away from the professional game. But what can we expect?

Six questions for Tiger Woods' return

It's finally here! At this week's Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods make's his long-awaited comeback after 15 months away from the professional game.

Below, we answer six key questions about Tiger’s return and his position in the game…

Will he be able to keep up with the long hitters?

You’d hope the answer is no here, because preserving his body should be at the forefront of his mind. Only he knows his body and how it’s feeling, but I hope we don’t see him thrashing at the golf ball. The trouble is, as an inherent winner, he wants to be the best at everything, and it will be hard for him to ease back off the tee. Still, it’s something he absolutely has to do. Plus, as long as he was during his heyday, the main reason for his success was finding a way to get the ball in the hole from anywhere, along with his incredible putting.

At a clinic not too long ago, he said 285-290-yard carries with his driver were “not that far compared to what I can do. I’ve got a lot more in the tank. Right now, you see me just cruising, hitting shots. I’m not going to hurt myself out here.” That’s good, but I don’t like the phrase ‘right now’. I hope doesn’t feel the need to go full throttle. A 290-yard carry is way above average – the PGA Tour Driving Distance average is just 288.5 yards.

Related: Tiger Woods' Hero World Challenge WITB

Will his body hold up?

There will undoubtedly be positive rhetoric about his body when he returns, but that’s been the case before. For me, this is the main area of concern. His body – both his back and his knees – were already frail before he underwent back surgery in September 2015 and a follow-up procedure the following month. He wasn’t able to walk for some time and it took him more than six months to start hitting full shots. Given all he’s been through in recent times – and we must consider here that his injuries haven’t been confined to one area – you have to be skeptical about his ability to stay healthy. You can just see him lashing hard at a drive and his back going again. If that happens, surely he has to draw the line.

What state is his short game in?

Everyone remembers Tiger’s short-game issues during the early part of 2015, when he hit a series of duffs and thins that even a mid-handicapper would have been embarrassed by. Still, he worked hard at it, and made significant improvements as the year progressed. He’s also been putting in hour after hour on the chipping and putting green since his surgeries at the end of last year – one positive by-product of not being able to swing at the ball. So, in theory, his short game should be in good shape.

Do his peers fear him?

During his halcyon years, Woods’ name on the leaderboard, and even sometimes his presence, instilled fear and trepidation into his peers. Sadly, that’s no longer the case. He’s now viewed as a flawed and vulnerable figure – both as a human following his extra-marital affairs, and on the golf course – and his aura has completely disappeared. In a recent poll by golf.com, 42% of PGA Tour players who took part said they didn’t think he’d win again, 31% said they didn’t know and 27% said they thought he would. That tells you everything you need to know.

Will he win again on tour?

Unlike 42% of his colleagues, I’m going to say yes here, with the proviso that he stays healthy for six months after he returns. If he doesn’t, I fear it’s curtains. Let’s not forget, though, that he played some decent golf before his latest setback, recording two top-18 finishes in his last three starts. I’m not prepared to write him off just yet. However, the depth of talent on tour these days is considerably deeper than it was five years ago, so it won’t be easy. But we must also remember just how much experience and how many good memories Woods has of most of the courses on the PGA Tour roster.

Will he win another Major?

Again, it hinges on his body. If he stays healthy, it certainly wouldn’t be beyond the realms of possibility for him to win at somewhere like Augusta National again. After all, he can pretty much compete there blindfolded. I genuinely feel, though, that if he suffers another significant setback, his body won’t be able to recover.

And finally, will he beat Jack’s record? Even if he doesn't suffer another injury, I just can’t see it with the amount of world-class players in operation today. Still, Woods has broken umpteen records and done extraordinary things throughout his career. Think about it: if he gets through next year without another injury, he’ll have seven more years until he reaches the benchmark for the oldest Major winner – Julius Boros at 48. That’s an awfully long time.

Nick Bonfield
Features Editor

Nick Bonfield joined Golf Monthly in 2012 after graduating from Exeter University and earning an NCTJ-accredited journalism diploma from News Associates in Wimbledon. He is responsible for managing production of the magazine, sub-editing, writing, commissioning and coordinating all features across print and online. Most of his online work is opinion-based and typically centres around the Majors and significant events in the global golfing calendar. Nick has been an avid golf fan since the age of ten and became obsessed with the professional game after watching Mike Weir and Shaun Micheel win The Masters and PGA Championship respectively in 2003. In his time with Golf Monthly, he's interviewed the likes of Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jose Maria Olazabal, Henrik Stenson, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Billy Horschel and has ghost-written columns for Westwood, Wayne Riley, Matthew Southgate, Chris Wood and Eddie Pepperell. Nick is a 12-handicap golfer and his favourite courses include Old Head, Sunningdale New, Penha Longha, Valderrama and Bearwood Lakes. If you have a feature pitch for Nick, please email nick.bonfield@futurenet.com with 'Pitch' in the subject line. Nick is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade M1 Fairway wood: TaylorMade RBZ Stage 2 Hybrid: Ping Crossover Irons (4-9): Nike Vapor Speed Wedges: Cleveland CBX Full Face, 56˚, Titleist Vokey SM4, 60˚ Putter: testing in progress! Ball: TaylorMade TP5x