(Reuters) - Tiger Woods will once again steal the spotlight at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on Thursday, despite the elite field containing eight of the world’s top-10 golfers, as he embarks on what could be his final shot at a comeback.
The 14-times major champion, who is now ranked 1199, has not played since back spasms aborted his latest comeback 10 months ago and while various reports suggest he is swinging freely, no-one will know how he is until he has undergone several rounds in the heat of competition.
Woods experienced a similar false dawn at the same tournament last year after a 16-month hiatus for previous back surgeries and the initial reports were upbeat after he completed four rounds.
Yet two months later he succumbed to the reality of how bad his back was and further surgery followed in April, this time a spinal fusion procedure.
Numerous videos have since been posted on social media of Woods apparently swinging well but precious little has been heard since an initial upbeat statement from surgeon Richard Guyer after the procedure, while details from the Woods camp have been vague and generalised.
“If he is healthy and pain free then what’s possible completely changes, but everything is speculation at this point,” Golf Channel analyst Frank Nobilo told Reuters.
Nobilo’s fellow Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee is not bullish on Woods.
“A bad back by a 41-year-old, four back surgeries in the last three or four years, followed by the emotional stress of the scandal and the controversies that have followed him around and likely some addictions, followed by the chipping yips, which various people have texted me, all caps, exclamation points, that he is over,” Chamblee told Golf.Com.
“I’ve seen no evidence that he’s over it.”
But Chamblee nevertheless has been impressed with Woods’ swing during pre-tournament practice rounds this weeks, and said he would not be surprised if he posts a top-10 finish in the 18-man field this week.
Others are more bullish long term but one thing most agree on is that this is likely the last-chance for Woods, already at an age at which most injury-free golfers are past their prime.
“My prediction, he’ll come back in a blaze of glory,” six-times major champion Lee Trevino, who endured back issues throughout his career, told Golf World.
“He’s not too old, far from it. If he gets fixed, when he comes back to hitting and feels no pain, he’s going to be so happy, that he may be more dangerous than he was before.”
Trevino, however, added that it was all still supposition.
“Hey, if they couldn’t fix him, then it is over,” he said.
“You can only chase a rainbow so many times.”
Reporting by Andrew Both; Editing by Greg Stutchbury