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QUICK TAKE: Woods Faces Stiff Challenge At PGA National

Tiger Woods
Hitting the fairway will be paramount at PGA National this week. (Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports)

PALM BEACH GARDENS, FLORIDA | After Tiger Woods had answered questions for 15 minutes and walked off the podium, Rory McIlroy was waiting for him.

“All of these long interviews nowadays, huh?” McIlroy joked.

They embraced like best friends as Woods gave a friendly push and a great smile. This is exactly what he missed: The passion of competition and the camaraderie between golf titans.

Now, he is in search of another old feeling – getting into the hunt at tournaments – this week at the Honda Classic. It’s his first appearance at PGA National since 2014, when he withdrew with back spasms midway through the final round, yet another reminder of the poor health he has endured and the optimism his current comeback brings. His results thus far in 2018 have been a mixed bag in a small sample size, but his health is strong and spirits are high as he readies for a 7:45 a.m. tee time Thursday with Brandt Snedeker and Patton Kizzire.

“I’m starting to get that feeling again of playing tournament golf where each and every shot matters,” Woods said. “I’m starting to get into that flow again. I’ve missed it, and it’s becoming familiar again.”

It will be no small task to conquer this golf course, particularly when taking into account the weather forecast. There is little chance of moisture and a high likelihood of winds gusting harder than 20 mph each day, which makes an already difficult layout even tougher. Woods plans on a fairly conservative game plan off the tee with maybe only “four or five” drivers being hit each round.

Hitting the fairway will be paramount. Rickie Fowler and Adam Scott, the last two winners of the Honda Classic, were just shy of 70 percent driving accuracy in their victories here. It’s a ballstriker’s venue, and being a bomber isn’t necessary by any means. Among recent winners are relative short-knockers like Pádraig Harrington, Russell Henley and Michael Thompson.

For Woods, being patient and managing expectations are key. He is hoping to get in as many tournament reps as is practical between now and the Masters.

“I’m just learning how to play tournament golf again, and unfortunately I’ve made some of my mistakes,” Woods said. “That’s just unfortunately part of it. I’m looking forward to April, trying to get my game solid. I’ve got some work to do.”

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