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Analysis: Tiger Woods has reason for optimism after Hero World Challenge

| Monday, Dec. 4, 2017, 12:39 a.m.
Tiger Woods tees off from the 14th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.
Tiger Woods tees off from the 14th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament at Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, Sunday, Dec. 3, 2017.

NASSAU, Bahamas — There are no issues with his surgically repaired back.

No issues with his swing speed.

No issues with his power.

Nope, after a 72-hole romp around Albany Golf Course, there remain few issues ahead for Tiger Woods, few questions as he heads into the new year. In his first competitive action in 10 months, and coming just seven months following spinal fusion surgery, Woods provided plenty of blasts from the past and upbeat glimpses into his future inside the ropes.

With a 4-under-par 68 on Sunday, Woods finished the Hero World Challenge at 8 under and in a tie for ninth in the 18-man field that lured eight of the top 10 players in the world. Despite finishing 10 shots behind winner Rickie Fowler, who closed with a course-record 61, Woods was beaming after signing for rounds of 69-68-75-68.

"I'm excited," said Woods, who was followed the entire round by his two kids and world No. 1 Rafael Nadal. "This is the way I've been playing at home and when I came out here and played, I was playing very similar to this. Not quite hitting it as far, but I had the adrenaline going and overall I'm very pleased."

Unlike last year's aborted comeback that also began at Albany, Woods is healthier this time around. There was no hesitation when he had to go after a shot from an awkward lie, no hesitation when he dialed up his swing speed past 180 mph. This time was different.

"I'm excited the way this week has gone on. With not only the competitive rounds but also all the functions at night. I still got my training in. It was a very good week," said Woods, who finished with 17 birdies, two eagles, 11 bogeys and one double-bogey. "I really drove it well and I really putted well. I know I had one day where I didn't have the speed on the greens, but I hit a lot of good putts this week."

He's excited going forward, too. Woods will sit down with his team to decide where and when he'll play in 2018. If history provides an indication, he will tee it up in the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines in San Diego the last week of January. His last major triumph [the 2008 U.S. Open] was at Torrey Pines and he's won the Farmers on seven occasions.

And Woods wasn't the only one excited about how the week unfolded.

"He's obviously a lot more upbeat, a lot more positive, a lot healthier than he was last year at this time," said Justin Thomas, who was paired with Woods in the first and final rounds. "He's got a lot of energy. It's just so weird to say that you're excited for somebody else's year, but it will be a fun year and I hope we duel it out a lot this upcoming year. ... Obviously we want to be able to play against him and battle down the stretch with him. I mean, that's the person that I was making putts on the putting green when I was 6, 7, 8 years old pretending to beat."

The man that walked every step with Woods was excited, too.

"Lots of positives," said Woods' caddie, Joe LaCava. "Drove it very well, got his speed back, was hitting the ball for the most part where he was looking, was hitting it both ways. And he's hitting it out with the young boys."

And LaCava didn't hesitate when asked if Woods could win in 2018.

"Of course," he said. "And that's coming more from a health standpoint. And he has the equipment dialed in. We're much more optimistic going forward than we were last year."

So is Fowler, who started the final round with seven consecutive birdies, finished with 11 and won by four shots.

He'll also keep his eye on Woods. Fowler played five rounds with Woods in Florida the past two months.

"To have him back playing and being able to play the last couple months with him at home and see his potential, I thought other than yesterday, it was a lot better than I think what a lot of people were expecting," Fowler said.

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