The Big Cat is back and he’ll play his first competitive round with the reigning Player of the Year.
The Hero World Challenge is not a major championship. It’s not a World Golf Championship. It’s not even an official PGA Tour event with FedExCup points.
But it has become one of the most important golf tournaments of the year. That’s because it’s been the unofficial reintroduction spot for Tiger Woods. The 2017 Hero World Challenge will mark the third comeback at this event that Woods has made from significant time out of the game. It’s his own tournament, benefiting his foundation, and it’s a relatively low-stress atmosphere. It also comes during golf’s offseason, or silly-season, and provides a nice little test for Woods before he ramps up at the top of a new year. So it makes sense that this has become a natural comeback spot for the Big Cat.
The Hero World Challenge is what you might call a “hit-and-giggle” game. There’s not exactly the intensity of a major or a regular PGA Tour event. It’s an 18-man field that’s there to help Woods and compete against some of the best in the world during their down time.
The imprimatur of Woods ensures he gets most of the best in the world to answer the phone and commit to his offseason challenge. A lot of players have events for charities or different outings, but few have challenges that have become sanctioned and operated by the PGA Tour and are covered on national TV.
Also, few of those events are able to attract eight of the top 10 players to their field. This year’s Hero World Challenge is stacked again, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, reigning player of the year Justin Thomas, Jordan Spieth, Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler, and others joining the party in the Bahamas.
When Woods made the announcement that he was playing, he thanked and referred to the “committee of one” for giving him a spot in the field. Presumably, that same committee of one has some influence over the pairings for the first round and Woods will be out with his Jupiter neighbor and protege, Justin Thomas. The two have spent some time together this offseason, with Thomas celebrating at Woods’ restaurant after winning the PGA Championship.
Woods has also played practice games with JT over the last month once he was cleared to swing at full speed. And Thomas has talked about picking Woods’ brain with regularity down in South Florida, and seeking his counsel throughout the Presidents Cup, where Woods was an assistant captain. So this will be a comfortable pairing, and the only one that really matters, even with all this non-Woods star power in the field.
Golf Channel’s coverage does not officially start until 12:30 p.m. ET, a good 25 minutes after Woods is scheduled to tee off. But their pregame show will be live by 11:30 a.m. and should carry his every shot during that 25-minute gap, as well as extended coverage of his warm-up routine and every step to that first tee.
Here’s your full tee sheet for the opening round at Albany in the Bahamas:
11:10AM ET: Hideki Matsuyama, Francesco Molinari
11:21AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Kevin Chappell
11:32AM ET: Patrick Reed, Daniel Berger
11:43AM ET: Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood
11:54AM ET: Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren
12:05PM ET: Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods
12:16PM ET: Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka
12:27PM ET: Kevin Kisner, Rickie Fowler
12:38PM ET: Matt Kuchar, Jordan Spieth
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