Michael Thorbjornsen earns exemption into Dubai Desert Classic as No. 1 in PGA TOUR University

Michael Thorbjornsen earns exemption into Dubai Desert Classic as No. 1 in PGA TOUR University
Michael Thorbjornsen earns exemption into Dubai Desert Classic as No. 1 in PGA TOUR University

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ALBANY: Like waiting for Apple’s latest software update, there is a buzz of anticipation in the golf world. Tiger Woods is about to make yet another comeback.

The 47-year-old American, a 15-time major champion widely considered the greatest player ever to pick up a club, is back in action this week at the Hero World Challenge, a 20-man limited-field tournament hosted by the Tiger Woods Foundation.

Woods is a walking orthopedic textbook. To jot down everything his body has gone through and the number of reasons he has had to go under the scalpel would be a litany of medical conditions. 

But on Tuesday, when he entered the media center for a press conference, it seemed we were seeing a different Tiger Woods. The boxer’s swagger was still there, but there was no sign of any limp in his gait.

A lot has already changed over the past few years. Woods is more approachable, more thoughtful in his replies. He does not brush off controversial questions. He is more actively involved in the future of the sport, instead of passively catalyzing its growth with his individual brilliance.

As his latest comeback begins, the questions swirl. Have all his bugs been fixed? Are there any new features of his swing? Will his swing speed increase? Will his batteries have a longer life?

His performance over 72 holes in the next four days will decide the success of Woods Version 6.0. Nothing can tarnish his impeccable legacy and the world certainly will not end if he fails this week, or even in the foreseeable future. However, it will be a beautiful place if he starts contending again in his trademark Sunday red and black.

The last time he had microdiscectomy surgeries in his spine, Woods managed to put together a swing that alleviated the pressure on his back and made full use of his Popeye-like biceps. This time, it is the subtalar joint in his ankle that has been fused.

Here is what we know after his interaction with the media — Woods is pain-free in the ankle. However, because of the changes he has made, he does feel sore in other parts of his body. And he is as excited as we are to find out how he shapes up with a scorecard in his hand.

“My game feels rusty, I haven’t played in a while. I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you are to see what happens. I can tell you this, I don’t have any of the pain that I had at Augusta or before that in my ankle. Other parts are taking the brunt of the load so I’m a little sorer in other areas. The surgery was a success,” Woods said.

As for the future, Woods does not see himself playing more than one tournament a month in 2024. It is likely his season will start with the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, in southern California.

During his time away from the game, Woods has been actively involved as a new player director of the PGA Tour board, sorting out the framework agreement with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. He hinted the board was working towards meeting the Dec. 31 deadline, which would see an infusion of funds into the PGA Tour and the creation of a new for-profit company.

“I’m pleased at the process and how it’s evolved and also frustrated in some of the slowness and the governance change that we want to have happen,” said Woods.

“And December 31 is coming up very quickly, so there’s a timetable there that we would like to implement some of these changes that have not taken place. All the player directors have spent so many hours and worked tireless hours to make sure we have the best deal for all the players and the PGA Tour,” he said, adding that the Tour was still talking to other potential investors.

Woods will start the first round of the Hero World Challenge on Thursday at 7:52 p.m. Saudi time, paired with Justin Thomas.

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