Tiger Woods turned 41 on Friday, and his longtime friend and fellow professional Notah Begay III predicted he would make a triumphant return to the PGA Tour in 2017.
Though Woods has competed only once in the past 16 months because of chronic back problems that required multiple operations, Begay was encouraged by his friend’s appearance in the Hero World Challenge tournament in the Bahamas in early December.
Woods made his long-awaited return at the tournament, which he hosts, and despite delivering mixed results, he ended the week with a tournament-high aggregate of 24 birdies.
“I don’t think anybody in the inner circle, including Tiger, could have been happier,” Begay said of Woods’s performance in the tournament, an elite, limited-field event.
“For him to go out and make more birdies than anybody else in the field after being on the shelf for 15 months was quite remarkable,” Begay said. “He’s seeing some definite returns on the time that he’s put in with regard to his recovery.”
Woods has already committed to playing in the PGA Tour’s Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Southern California from Feb. 16 to 19, and he is expected to play three weeks earlier than that — in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego.
Begay, 44, a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, has forecast that Woods will hit top form by the opening major of the year, the Masters.
“I expect him to have at least one win next year, based upon what I’ve seen,” said Begay, who played with Woods on the Stanford University golf team. “It’s just a matter of getting some more tournament rounds.”
For all the birdies accumulated by Woods through the four rounds of the Hero World Challenge, he also led the field with six double bogeys.
Brandel Chamblee, a former PGA Tour winner who, like Begay, is a Golf Channel analyst, was impressed by Woods’s wedge game from outside 70 yards but said that his chipping and driving needed fixing.
Begay said: “There wasn’t anything that took place in the Bahamas that wasn’t fixable. I don’t think Tiger was comfortable with his 3-wood, but that’s fixable.”
As for assessing Woods’s accuracy off the tee, Begay said: “He hit something like 52 drivers in the Bahamas, and you’ve got to see at least a few hundred before you start figuring out what the patterns and trends are.”
Woods bladed a few bunker shots over greens during the Hero World Challenge, but Begay saw no indication of the chipping yips that afflicted Woods in early 2015.
“The majority of chips that I saw around the green that might cause some problems he executed very well,” Begay said. “His bunker game was solid. His little feel shots around the green were good.”
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