Tiger Woods announces golf return in October

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Ready for a comeback: Tiger Woods.

Tiger Woods hopes to return to competitive golf next month. The former world number one has been out of action since August last year due to serious back problems which have required surgery.

The 40-year-old has announced his intention to compete at the PGA Tour’s Safeway Open in Napa, California, in October. That will come after returning to the course in a more informal setting, at the Tiger Woods Invitational on the Monterey Peninsula, California, three days earlier on October 10.

If all goes well, Woods also hopes he can play in the Turkish Airlines Open in Antalya in November and the Hero World Challenge, hosted by his own foundation, at Albany in the Bahamas in December.

Woods said: “My rehabilitation is to the point where I’m comfortable making plans, but I still have work to do. Whether I can play depends on my continued progress and recovery. My hope is to have my game ready to go.

“I’m looking forward to going to California for my foundation event and Safeway. I’m also excited to return to Turkey and Albany. It could be a fun fall.”

It was thought Woods may not play on tour this year after he withdrew from the Open and the PGA Championship in July.

The 14-time major winner had entered those events as a matter of routine but said his physical condition was not ready for tournament golf. He stressed the importance of taking his time and cited previous bad experience of rushing comebacks. Since then updates on his condition have been scarce but he is now pleased with his progress.

He said: “It was difficult missing tournaments that are important to me, but this time I was smart about my recovery and didn’t rush it. It was great spending time with my children Sam and Charlie, and also working on a lot of projects including golf-course design, the upcoming 20th anniversary of my foundation and my book about the 1997 Masters. But I missed competing.”

Woods’ last appearance came at the Wyndham Championship in August 2015, where he finished in a tie for 10th. In his absence he has slid to 711th in the world rankings.

He will be back at the Ryder Cup later this month as he serves as a vice-captain for the US team.

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Joy of Golf: McIlroy return to form timely

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McIlroy showed impressive resilience to recover from a disastrous start in Boston.

There is no denying the fact that after Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy remains the second biggest draw in golf. That was in evidence once again. Just like the former American world No1, there seems to be extra vitality in the celebration of a McIlroy win by the fans, just as there seems to be extra scrutiny in whatever he does.

You know someone is important to the sport when each move of the athlete is analysed and debated. Be it golf-related – like that famous switch to Nike clubs, or the walkoff at the 2013 Honda Classic – or personal issues like his engagement and subsequent break-up with Caroline Wozniacki, which country to represent in Olympics or even his training routine in the gym, people always have an opinion on McIlroy.

Obviously, these last few months, it has been about his refusal to go to the Olympics, and his issues with the putter. When he made the decision on Rio, McIlroy did look irritated by the backlash he faced and some of his remarks seemed casual and offensive.

As for the putting, he had constantly been outside the top-100 of the PGA Tour’s overall putting stats despite being in the top five of the overall driving stats.

And while everyone has been going ga-ga over the turnaround in his putting during the Deutsche Bank Championship, there were a couple of other points that I thought were significant as he beat Paul Casey by two shots at TPC Boston for his first PGA Tour win after 477 days.

It really was impressive how he kept at it after the disastrous start he had to the tournament. After the first three holes, McIlroy was fourover.

In tournaments on the PGA and European Tour, that’s dead and buried as far as chances of winning the title are concerned.

Many experts feel it was the slight adjustment he made to his putting grip on the second day that led to his resurgence. I feel it was how he willed himself to fight back to even-par score at the end of the opening round that kick-started the resurrection. I thought it was remarkable that he still believed in himself despite that horror start.

As for the putting, even the way in which he went about making the change, showed the terrific self-belief he has. The week before The Barclays, McIlroy changed his putter, switching to Scotty Cameron. And then at the start of Deutsche Bank Championship, he changed his putting coach and started working with Phil Kenyon.

When asked why he chose Kenyon, McIlroy said it was because Kenyon knew how to work with the existing stroke. All his clients have very different putting strokes, which meant he wasn’t working to a fixed blueprint.

Not for one moment in all these months of tribulation, did McIlroy think of changing his own putting stroke. He knew throughout he had the right gun, all it needed was minor re-caliberating. Once again, I felt he displayed exceptional self-belief.

While we are on McIlroy, there is something I wanted to point out about him and Olympics. I thought it was very classy of him to admit he might have been wrong about golf getting back into the Games. Not many people have the courage and character to do that.

And finally, no prizes for guessing who had the biggest smile as McIlroy went about his business on Monday. This was just the boost European captain Darren Clarke was looking for three weeks before the Ryder Cup. The injury to Henrik Stenson, and the form of McIlroy must have been Clarke’s biggest worry ahead of the Hazeltine clash. They are the two highest ranked players in the team and the undoubted leaders on the course. It was important they performed well in the run-up to the tournament, and Clarke got exactly what he was hoping for.

During the EurAsia Cup played between Europe and Asia at the beginning of the year, European captain Darren Clarke had made it very clear that he was going to depend heavily on statistics come the Ryder Cup.

That tournament in Kuala Lumpur was when we came to know about the company, 15th Club, a group of guys who have turned golf into a complete game of numbers.

They have researched and analysed all kinds of stats and Clarke admitted later that many of his pairings that week were based on what the computers churned out.

American captain Davis Love III seems to be going the same way. He told the media categorically that he is going decide on his wildcards and pairings based on what his stats team come out with.

You can understand the importance of basing your judgement on facts and figures, but I certainly don’t want captaincy to be dictated by computer algorithms. Hopefully, human input and gut instinct will also play a part.

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Joy of Golf: USA have the perfect blend to dethrone Europe

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Captain fantastic: Davis Love.

The more I look at it, the more I am convinced that this American Ryder Cup team will finally be able to redeem itself.

Davis Love’s team is not complete as yet, while Darren Clarke has gone past the worst part of being a captain – naming his picks and informing those who haven’t made it to Hazeltine.

This year’s majors have been divided between the two teams – Danny Willett and Henrik Stenson at the Masters and The Open, and Dustin Johnson and Jimmy Walker at the US Open and the PGA Championship. But that’s where the similarity ends.

As of now, with only eight Americans confirmed for the team, they have the two highest ranked players in the field – world No. 2 Johnson and No. 3 Jordan Spieth.

Europe have the next two highest ranked stars – No. 4 Stenson and No. 5 Rory McIlroy. But in No. 41 Thomas Pieters, No. 42 Andy Sullivan, No. 46 Lee Westwood, No. 48 Matthew Fitzpatrick and No. 50 Martin Kaymer, they also have the five lowest ranked players in the 20 who are assured of a place in Hazeltine.

Even more worrisome is the fact that McIlroy is struggling with his putter, while Stenson has injury concerns with his right knee flaring up again at the most inappropriate moment for Clarke.

But, of course, we all know from past experience that reputations and rankings don’t matter much in the Ryder Cup.

On the other hand, good pairings do make a huge difference.

And while Europe will feature six experienced stars with six rookies – which is a good mix – Americans seem to have players who complement each others’ game.

If we go with the widely held belief that Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar and JB Holmes will get the nod from Love, then there are six players – Dustin, Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Patrick Reed, Watson and Holmes – who are renowned for their power game, coupled with six of the most consistent and straight hitters in today’s game – Spieth, Walker, Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker, Fowler and Kuchar.

The Americans really are a great mix of skills and experience right now. They are massively hungry and they do not want to disappoint their home fans.

Miracles like Medinah are always possible in Ryder Cup, but I am going to go for 16-12 in Team USA’s favour this year.

Made in Denmark is special

The tournament is just three years old and at €1.8 million, it offers one of the lowest purses among the Tour events in continental Europe, but Made in Denmark is fast becoming a must-play event on the schedule of many players.

There were 78,000 good reasons last week why this tournament has become so popular so quickly. That’s the number of spectators who turned up for the event this year, and each one of them contributed in a very special way.

The par-three 16th hole at Himmerland Golf Resort is fast becoming as famous as the 17th at TPC Sawgrass or the 16th at TPC Scottsdale. The thousands of fans on ‘Himmerland Hill’ provided the most unforgettable moment of the year when they all held up European flags as Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke approached the green on day two.

But even otherwise, they appreciated good shots, and unlike Scottsdale, did not boo bad shots. Birdies and eagles were greeted with squeaking noise of the ‘Birdie Duck’, a rubber toy that could be purchased for 50 Krone (appx Dh27), with proceeds from sales of the ducks going to various charities.

The organisers not only got the fans engaged with golf, but also provided a lot of off-course, and post-round activities to keep them happy.

The tournament, given its proximity to PGA Championship and FedEx Cup, is not very well scheduled to attract the big stars who ply their trade on the PGA Tour, but if they continue to get such good word-of-mouth publicity from the players, I won’t be surprised if the European Tour is forced to change it to a more favourable time of the year.

Player of the Week

Japan’s ‘Bashful Prince’, Ryo Ishikawa returned to competitive golf in style when he won the Rizap KBC Augusta on the JGTO Tour.

Ishikawa has struggled with his lower back and hasn’t played any tournament since making the cut at February’s Phoenix Open. KBC Augusta was his second outing after making his comeback in July in Japanese PGA Championship, where he missed the cut.

The victory improved him to No. 140 in the world rankings.

Quotes of the Week

“The fact that it put a kink in our schedule this year irritates me. To mess with the four tournaments that matter most because you’re at the Olympics, I’ve got a strong, strong disdain for that.” – Two-time major champion Zach Johnson doesn’t hide his displeasure for Olympics golf.

“Today, you have become the daughter of the Korean people.” – On the other side of the world, an emotional grandfather told Inbee Park as she arrived in Incheon with her Olympics gold.

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