Tiger Woods capped his return to competition with a fine four-under par 68 on Sunday as red-hot Rickie Fowler won the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas.
Former world number one Woods, who once wondered if nagging back trouble would spell the end of his career, had an eagle and six birdies to finish 72 holes on eight-under par 280.
That never put him within striking distance of Fowler, who produced a remarkable course-record 61 on the par-72 Albany Golf Club layout.
Fowler birdied the first seven holes, and eight in total on the front nine. After birdies at 11, 13 and 15, he was eyeing golf’s magic number of 59.
No more birdies were forthcoming, however, and Fowler settled for a course-record 61 and an 18-under total of 270.
Fowler finished four shots in front of fellow American Charley Hoffman, the overnight leader by five strokes who carded a final-round 72.
“I knew I needed to get off to a quick start today to at least show Charley I was there,” said Fowler, who started the day seven shots adrift. “”We took care of that and kept it rolling from there.”
Fowler was disappointed with his par at the eighth, where he had hoped to improve on his career-best birdie streak.
“Seven (birdies) was the most I had made (in a row) before, so I was really trying to get that eighth,” he said. “Didn’t want to get too greedy, just tried to make it with good speed, but ultimately left it short.”
Jordan Spieth, tied for second to start the round, fired a final-round 69 to share third with England’s Tommy Fleetwood, who signed for a 67.
Woods finished tied for ninth with Matt Kuchar in the unofficial 18-man event that benefits his charitable foundation.
A back-nine double-bogey and two bogeys to finish took some wind out of Woods’s sails, but the 41-year-old superstar, playing for the first time since February after yet another back surgery in April, found plenty to be encouraged about.
Most importantly, he said, he played all week without pain.
“Overall, I’m very pleased. I showed some good signs,” he said, adding that they pointed toward “a bright future”.
Woods’s impressive display off the tee included a monster drive at the par-four seventh that led to his eagle.
That was just one of the shots that delighted an enthusiastic gallery following the 14-time major champion that included Spanish tennis star Rafael Nadal.
“I knew I was going to be able to play all four rounds, that wasn’t going to be an issue,” said Woods, who also missed all of the 2015-16 season with back trouble.
“The issue was how my scoring was going to be, how was my feel? How am I going to get used to the adrenaline in my system, because it’s the first time in a while.
“That took a little bit of time,” added Woods, who finished the week with rounds of 69, 68, 75 and 68.
“I was still scratchy with my irons. I drove it pretty good all week, made some good putts.”
With one encouraging tournament under his belt, Woods remained non-committal as to his precise plans for 2018.
“I don’t know what my schedule’s going to be, but my expectations are we’ll be playing next year. How many? Where? I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure it out.”
Fowler, too, was thinking about next year after following up his runner-up finish in the OHL Classic at Mayakoba a few weeks ago with his storming win.
“It’s nice to see the game hang around,” Fowler said. “We can build on some things and make next year a special one.”