Scheffler wins World Challenge, Woods encouraged in return

MIAMI: World number one Scottie Scheffler fired a bogey-free 68 on Sunday for a three-shot win in the Hero World Challenge, where 15-time major champion Tiger Woods said he'd "come a long way" in his first tournament since April.

Scheffler had four birdies in his four-under par 68 on the Albany golf course in the Bahamas, his 20-under total of 268 beating Austrian Sepp Straka by three shots to give him the trophy after runner-up finishes to Viktor Hovland the last two years.

Tournament host Woods, who hadn't played since ankle surgery in the wake of his third round withdrawal at the Masters, said he was "ecstatic" with how the week had gone after carding a final-round 72 for an even par total of 288.

Woods shook off a double-bogey at the second hole with birdies at the third, fifth and sixth. After bogeys at eight and 11 he birdied 14 and 15 before a bogey at 16 that left him 18th in the 20-player field.

"I think I've come a long way," said Woods, who said this week that he was no longer playing with pain from leg injuries suffered in a 2021 car crash but still battled chronic back pain.

"From being a little bit rusty to playing four days and knocked off a lot of rust which was great, and just the physicality of actually playing and competing again – I haven't done this in a while," he said.

"I wish I would have played a little cleaner but there's always next time."

Having completed 72 holes, Woods said he thought his estimate that he could play one tournament a month in 2024 "seems reasonable."

"It gives me a couple of weeks to recover, a week to tune up. Maybe I can get into a rhythm. That's what the plan was going into next year and I don't see why that would change."

Woods, who said all week his fitness was his main concern, said the way he drove the ball was the best aspect of his game this week.

"I drove it on pretty much a string all week," he said. "So it's not like I have to go and try and find something the next few weeks or something going into next year. What I've been working on is right there."

The victory in the unofficial event saw Scheffler end 2023 on a high note, nine months after he claimed his sixth US PGA Tour title at the Players Championship.

Since then putting problems had held Scheffler back, but this week showed his recent work with putting coach Phil Kenyon was paying off.

"I was optimistic going into this week," Scheffler said. "It's nice to see some fast results from the stuff we've been working on. It was nice to see some putts go in."

Straka surged into second place with eight birdies in an eight-under par 64 for 271.

"It was great, just a great round of golf," he said. "My putter finally heated up. I felt like the last two days I hit the ball really well, didn't make a lot of putts and today I finally made a few putts."--AFP

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