Tiger Woods is back for good as Matsuyama runs away with fifth title of 2016

Updated: Dec 06, 2016, 16:24 IST | V Krishnaswamy

Tiger Woods moves the needle, said Jordan Spieth. May be, he is the needle, itself. And, despite being 11 shots ahead of Tiger at the start of the final round, eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama said more than anyone else he feared Tiger the most

Albany: Tiger Woods moves the needle, said Jordan Spieth. May be, he is the needle, itself. And, despite being 11 shots ahead of Tiger at the start of the final round, eventual winner Hideki Matsuyama said more than anyone else he feared Tiger the most. The accolades kept pouring in. And this was for a man, who had just finished 15th in a field where only 17 of the 18 completed 72 holes at the Hero World Challenge.

But also remember, this was the man, who has 14 Majors, 79 PGA Tour titles and over 100 titles worldwide in his cabinets. And he was returning after 16 months, and of them six were spent without touching a club and wondering if he would ever get to play the game he had dominated.

In one week he gave a lot of answers to all those questions. Sure, he did not win, he was not even close; but the signs are that he could well win. And it could even a Major.

Jack Nicklaus feels Tiger could still get to that magic number of 18.

This week Matsuyama showed how much he has grown in terms of converting talent into wins as he moved to dead last in 2015 to the very top in 2016 at Hero World Challenge. Four wins in last five starts and there was T-5 at Tour Championships before that and a win earlier in the year, making it five for 2016. But the modest and prodigious Matsuyama dismisses the thoughts that he may be the best ever from Japan. He said he needs to win 100 times like Jumbo Ozaki to even think of it.

Matsuyama won by a handy two shots ahead of Henrik Stenson, who rounded of his best year at 40, with another second place.
Stenson, who won his maiden Major at the Open and a silver at the Olympics, had two wins, four seconds, two thirds and five other Top-10s in a year that would be tough to replicate at his age. But as he says, who knows!

Matsuyama, who spoke through an interpreter, was content to stay in the shadows, if that was possible, as Tiger’s return overshadowed all others this week. But the young and humble Japanese star, who will be gunning for his maiden Major in 2017, was happy to play second fiddle even as his finest year came to an end.

Coming back to Tiger, every third hole he played was a birdie – 24 birdies in 72 hole. It was the best in the field this week – Matsuyama had only 22 besides two eagles.

Tiger also shot the worst round of the week – 76 on Sunday and it included three doubles. But when you think of the number of naysayers, who said he may not even break 80 at Albany, he silenced them all. His swing looked in place; the chipping, which was once a near embarrassment with duffs, was fine and in general the short game was as good as it could be without having been tested in tournament conditions for 16 months. His old putter, the Scotty Cameron, was back in action and there were times when those monsters dropped or nearly did, that familiar Tiger celebration and pump was almost back.

Tiger had all those birdies, but what stymied him was the rust and that showed up in eight bogeys and six doubles; the latter hurting him most. But he was smiling all around. He was happy to healthy after the strain of 72 holes. All he wants is to play and he knows the results will follow. He is likely to cut back from even the short schedule of 18-20 events he used to have and is likely to play around 15 or so. But when and where that begins is still in the realms of speculation. His manager has said there have been offers. Doubtless one of them would be from the Middle East – either Abu Dhabi or Dubai, but Tiger was refraining from spelling it out. We have not discussed that, is all he would say.

However, be sure this comeback, is for good. And soon the trophies could roll in. And so will the crowds at golf courses around the world.

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