Golf

Woods returns with solid round and good start in Bahamas

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Woods returns with solid round and good start in Bahamas

NASSAU, Bahamas - Tiger Woods looked a lot better in his return to golf than he did when he left.

Playing for the first time since his fourth back surgery, Woods returned from a 10-month layoff with a 3-under 69 on a breezy Thursday in the Bahamas that left him three shots behind Tommy Fleetwood after the opening round of the Hero World Challenge.

"For me, I thought I did great," Woods said with a smile.

And in a sign that he was ready to get back into the mix, he was far from satisfied.

Unlike a year ago, when Woods ended a 15-month hiatus from his ailing back, he didn't show any fatigue at the end of his round or make any big numbers. His only regret was playing the par 5s at Albany Golf Club in 1-over par with two bogeys that stalled his momentum.

Coming off a 25-foot birdie putt on the par-3 eighth, Woods hit a 3-wood that rolled up on the green and then down a slope about 30 feet from the pin. It took him four shots from there, starting with a chip that didn't reach the green and his first expletive loud enough for television to pick up.

After his best shot of the day - a pitching wedge he hit low from 95 yards that settled a foot behind the hole for birdie on No. 14 - he sent a drive well to the right into the native dunes. Woods had to take a penalty drop to get back in play and wound up making bogey.

But it was solid enough that Woods was far more interested in the leaderboard than the fact he felt strong physically.

"It was not only nice to get the first round out of the way, but also I'm only three shots out of the lead," he said. "So to be able to put myself there after not playing for 10 months or so, it was nice to feel the adrenaline out there."

He was tied for eighth in the 18-man field of this holiday exhibition that awards world ranking points but does not count as official on any tour. Rickie Fowler and Matt Kuchar were at 67, while Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Rose and Kevin Chappell were at 68.

The buzz was back. Johnson noticed it when he was on the practice range and noticed a crowd around the putting green.

"Tiger must be there," Johnson said. "Because there's 40 people instead of four."

Golf Channel added an hour of coverage, and Twitter came alive with people curious about the latest return. That included Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors' two-time MVP who played a Web.com Tour event in August. "The wait is over. The wait is over," he tweeted .

Michael Phelps said he was "pumped to be watching" Woods on TV again.

This event doesn't draw big crowds, but most of them were with Woods to see how he would fare in this latest comeback, this one from fusion surgery on his lower back on April 20. Given it was his fourth surgery in three years, coupled with a DUI arrest in the summer that exposed the struggles Woods was having with pain medicine, a day like this seemed a long way off.

Woods said he appreciated the moment Thursday morning.

"I was in my head thanking all the people who have helped me in giving me a chance to come back and play this round again," he said. "There were a lot of people who were instrumental in my life - friends, outside people I've never bet before, obviously my surgeon. I was very thankful."

And he was as competitive as always.

Woods delivered his first fist pump on par-4 fourth hole when he scooped a chip that didn't reach the green, and then holed an 18-foot par putt.

While the field is short, the competition is strong with eight of the top in the world at Albany. Woods realizes they have spent the last couple of years playing at a high level that allows them to overcome a few mistakes.

"I don't want to lose shots," Woods said. "I haven't played in a very long time and I can't afford to go out there and make a bunch of bogeys and know that I can make nine, 10 birdies and offset them."

Along with his five birdies - only two of them were tap-ins - Woods had an assortment of tough par saves, including a 10-footer that kept him dropping another shot on a par 5 at No. 11. He finished his round with a belly wedge from short of the 17th green because of mud on his ball, and holing a 6-foot par putt on the 18th.

A year ago, Woods made a pair of double bogeys over the last three holes for a 73 to finish nine shots behind. This time, he closed with pars and was three back.

PGA champion Justin Thomas, who also opened with a 69 in the same pairing with Woods, is among those who have played with him in recent weeks in Florida. Woods said he once played nine straight days.

"It was what I saw when we played at home," Thomas said. "Obviously, taking this much time off from competition is hard. I felt rusty starting after a month-and-a-half, so I can't imagine what it felt like for him. But he played well."

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Patrick Reed wins first major title, holding off Fowler at Masters

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Patrick Reed wins first major title, holding off Fowler at Masters

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- The tepid applause that greeted Patrick Reed on the first tee made it clear he wasn't the people's choice.

All he cared about was being the Masters champion.

He turned back an early move by Rory McIlroy and a late charge by Rickie Fowler. Most daunting in the middle of the final round Sunday was a familiar name at Augusta National - Jordan Spieth - on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history.

Reed had the game and the grit to beat them all. And when he slipped on that green jacket, he had everyone's respect.

"I knew it was going to be a dogfight," Reed said. "It's just a way of God basically saying, `Let's see if you have it.' Everyone knows you have it physically with the talent. But do you have it mentally? Can you handle the ups and downs throughout the round?"

He has proven that playing for his country. He did it Sunday for himself.

The final test was a 25-foot putt down the scary slope on the 18th green, and Reed pressed down both hands, begging it to stop as it rolled 3 feet by. From there, the 27-year-old Texan calmly rolled in the par putt for a 1-under 71 and a one-shot victory.

Known as "Captain America" for his play in the Ryder Cup, Reed added a far more important title: Masters champion.

The loudest cheers were for everyone else, and Reed picked up on that right away. The crowd was squarely behind McIlroy and his best chance yet at completing the career Grand Slam. Then it was Spieth, running off four birdies in a five-hole stretch on the back nine to challenge the course record. The loudest cheer was for Fowler when he made an 8-foot birdie putt on the final hole to pull within one.

Reed never flinched through it all.

"I just went out there and just tried to play golf the best I could and tried to stay in the moment and not worry about everything else," Reed said.

Reed, who finished at 15-under 273, won for the sixth time in his PGA Tour career.

Until Sunday, he was best known for the trophies he shared at the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup. He is ferocious in match play, especially the team variety, and his singles victory over McIlroy at Hazeltine in the 2016 Ryder Cup led to his nickname.

"He's not scared. I think you guys have seen that previous from the Ryder Cups and the way he plays," said Fowler, who closed with a 67. "He won't back down. I don't necessarily see him as someone that backs up and will let you come back into the tournament. You have to go catch him."

Fowler did his best with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, and the 8-footer on the final hole. It still wasn't enough. Fowler was runner-up for the third time in a major. He left the scoring cabin when Reed tapped in for par.

"Glad I at least made the last one, make him earn it," Fowler said with a grin as he waited to greet the newest major champion.

"You had to do it didn't you?" Reed told him as they exchanged a hug. "You had to birdie the last."

Spieth put up the most unlikely fight and was on the verge of the greatest comeback in Masters history. He started nine shots behind going into the final round, and was inches away on two shots from a chance at another green jacket.

His tee shot on the 18th clipped the last branch in his way, dropping his ball some 267 yards from the green. His 8-foot par putt for a record-tying 63 narrowly missed on the right. He had to settle for a 64.

"I think I've proven to myself and to others that you never give up," Spieth said. "I started the round nine shots back and I came out with the idea of just playing the golf course and having a lot of fun doing it and try to shoot a low round and finish the tournament strong and see what happens, if something crazy happens."

McIlroy, meanwhile, will have to wait another year for a shot at the career Grand Slam.

Trailing by three shots to start the final round, he closed to within one shot after two holes. That was as close as he came. McIlroy's putter betrayed him - he missed four putts inside 10 feet on the front nine - and he was never a factor on the back nine. He closed with a 74 and tied for fifth.

"Tough day, but I'll be back," McIlroy said. "And hopefully, I'll be better."

Reed is old-school among his generation, with a brash attitude and a willingness to speak his mind. He has never been terribly popular in this state, mainly because of allegations of bad behavior while playing for Georgia that led to an early departure from the Bulldogs. He transferred to Augusta State and led the outmanned Jaguars to a pair of NCAA titles. His parents live in Augusta, but were not at the tournament. They weren't at his wedding in 2012, a relationship Reed chooses not to discuss.

"I'm just out here to play golf and try to win golf tournaments," Reed said.

He won a big one Sunday, and it was hard work, just the way he likes it.

Different about this victory for Reed was the fuchsia shirt he wore as part of a Nike script. Reed always wears black pants and a red shirt because that's what Tiger Woods does, and Reed has long modeled his mental game after Woods. "Be stubborn," he once said about learning by watching Woods.

Woods broke par for the first time all week with a 69. He tied for 32nd, 16 shots behind, in his first major since the 2015 PGA Championship.

Reed went to the back nine with a four-shot lead over four players, and they all had their chances. That included Jon Rahm, the 23-year-old from Spain, whose chances ended when he went after the flag on the par-5 15th and came up short in the water. He shot 69 and finished fourth.

Reed made a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 12, and his biggest birdie was a 9-iron to 8 feet on the 14th that broke the tie with Spieth. He made all pars from there. That was all he needed.

He became the fourth straight Masters champion to capture his first major.

Reed once claimed after winning a World Golf Championship at Doral that he was a top 5 player in the world, which subjected him to ridicule because it was only his third career title. His first major moves him to No. 11. It also comes with a green jacket, which is worth far more notoriety, not to mention respect.

Tiger Woods 9th as Rickie Fowler wins in Bahamas

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Tiger Woods 9th as Rickie Fowler wins in Bahamas

NASSAU, Bahamas - Rickie Fowler and Tiger Woods both had cause for celebrations large and small at the Hero World Challenge.

Fowler rallied from a seven-shot deficit by opening with seven straight birdies at Albany Golf Club and closing with an 11-under 61 Sunday for his second victory worldwide. It was the second time in his eight years on tour that he won multiple times around the world.

Woods had his best finish in four years.

Playing for the first time in 10 months while recovering from a fourth back surgery, Woods closed with a 68 despite a bogey-bogey finish. Even so, his back felt good and he was swinging at full strength. He tied for ninth in the 18-man field, his best result since a playoff loss at this holiday event in 2013.