ALBANY: Tiger Woods teed off in his first semi-competitive round at the Pro-Am ahead of the 2023 Hero World Challenge .
The field of 20 elite stars includes World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler, who wants to end his run of two successive second places behind the Norwegian star, Viktor Hovland, who bids to become the first player to win the Hero World Challenge three times in a row.
Woods returns to action for the first time since he withdrew after the second round of the Masters in Augusta this April.
Playing without a limp, that has often been seen in Woods’ walk, the 15-time Major winning legend, played his Pro-Am round with Dr. Pawan Munjal, the Executive Chairman of Hero MotoCorp. It was clearly a moment to cherish as Woods, plagued by injuries, was teeing off at his own event for the first time since 2019. Woods is a five-time winner of the tournament.
Marking the tenth year of their association with the event, though the edition in 2020 was cancelled due to Covid, Hero MotoCorp have raised the prize pool to $ 4.5 million from the erstwhile $ 3.5. The winner picks a cool $ 1 million. The purse will swell to $ 5 million in 2024.
It is one of the most star-studded fields in a non-Majors in the entire year and it included a dozen Major champions, who among them have won 3 Majors, including 15 by Woods, who feels he still has some more Majors in him. He won his 14th Major in 2008 and the 15th in 2019 at the Masters. The same year he added a 82nd PGA Tour title at Zozo Championships in Japan.
The field includes the current World No. 1 Scottie Scheffler and five others who at some stage have held World No.1 ranking. The club includes Woods, who has been World No, 1 for a record 683 weeks and the others are Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose and Jason Day.
Hovland is coming off a great year. When he won his second HWC title, he was 10th in the world, now he is No, 4. He had a great Ryder Cup with the winning Europe team and won three times at the Memorial, the BMW and the Tour Championships. He was also the FedEx Cup champion for 2023.
Scottie won the Phoenix Open and was in the Top-10 no less than 17 times and made the cut in each of his 23 starts. His amazing consistency has been his hallmark.
Jordan Spieth, recalling his debut at the HWC in 2014 and how well he played that week for 26-under, admitted that it was the “best week of his career”.
“That was fun. I was 21, so I don't think flying across the world and playing a few days later was that big of a deal to be honest. But it was a cool two-week stretch of Australia and then at the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth,” said Jordan.
“That Isleworth week I would put that up there as maybe the best golf I've played in my life. I don't think I've ever played better for four days than I did there. I still think about how it felt swinging the club that week and how the ball was coming off and how easy the game was,” he added.
Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa, both two-time Major champions, have fallen out of Top-10. Thomas is as low as 27th, but is hoping that this week’s HWC will show him a better direction for 2024.
There are three debutants, including two major winners. They are the 2023 US Open champion Wyndham Clark and The Open champion, Brian Harman.
Then there is Will Zalatoris, who will also be making his first competitive start, since being forced to pull out 30 minutes before teeing off at Augusta this year.
The 2017 winner Rickie Fowler is another one looking to get set for 2024 after this week, as he resumes his walk to Top-10 in the world.