By DOUG FERGUSON
The Associated Press
NASSAU, Bahamas — Tiger Woods used to have no trouble returning to golf after a long layoff.
That was when he was much younger, before the injuries and surgeries began piling up, before the annual arrival of more young players who made golf stronger than ever.
Woods first had to miss tournaments because of injury going into the 2003 season. Woods had surgery on his left knee during the offseason and didn’t play for two months until he returned at Torrey Pines.
He won by four shots.
Woods stayed away from golf for 10 weeks in 2007, the year his first child was born. He returned at his Target World Challenge.
He won by seven shots.
But this is different.
The Hero World Challenge presents the stiffest challenge on so many levels, starting with the fact it was two back surgeries that kept him out for 15 months, an injury that left him so debilitated that at times he wondered if he had played his last tournament.
“I’m going to be focused, I’m going to do what I can do and put the ball in the correct spots, give myself looks and try to bury these putts and post scores, and get myself in that mix come Sunday afternoon,” Woods said.
That mission, though it seems impossible, starts today.
A look at some of the other times Woods came back from a long break:
June 15, 2006 — The death of his father, Earl, caused Woods to sit out for two months, including the Masters, until he showed up at Winged Foot for the U.S. Open. He struck the ball beautifully during Wednesday’s practice round, but once the tournament started, it took him half of a round to get going, and it cost him. Woods shot 76, followed with another 76 and missed the cut for the first time in a major. He played nine more stroke-play tournaments that year, winning six of them and finishing runner-up in the other three.
June 12, 2008 — Woods had arthroscopic surgery to repair cartilage in his left knee two days after the Masters, and choose not to fix his ACL to avoid a long recovery. Doctors discovered two stress fractures in his left tibia and he was advised to rest for six weeks. Instead, he played the U.S. Open at Torrey Pines and won in a playoff for his 14th major.
Feb. 25, 2009 — After nearly nine months away to recover from reconstructive knee surgery, Woods returned at the Match Play Championship and beat Brendan Jones of Australia in the first round. He lost to Tim Clark in the second round, but won at Bay Hill two tournaments later.
April 8, 2010 — Woods disappeared from public for two months after revelations of multiple extramarital affairs. He chose to end a five-month break at the Masters, under the greatest scrutiny. He broke par in the opening round for the first time at Augusta National and tied for fourth, five shots behind Phil Mickelson.
Aug. 4, 2011 — After withdrawing after nine holes at The Players Championship with leg injuries, Woods returned nearly three months later at the Bridgestone Invitational, which he had won seven times. He opened with a 68 and tied for 37th. The next week, he missed the cut at the PGA Championship.
June 26, 2014 — Woods had his first back surgery in late March that knocked him out of the Masters. He tried to return two months later — far too soon, he later conceded — at his Quicken Loans National at Congressional. With rounds of 74-75, he missed the cut.
Dec. 4, 2014 — After pulling out of Firestone in the final round with back pain and missing the cut the following week at Valhalla, Woods took the rest of the year off to properly heal. He returned at the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth, where he played more rounds than any other course. He tied for 17th, which doesn’t sound bad except that it was only an 18-man field. And he finished 26 shots behind Jordan Spieth.
April 9, 2015 — Horrific chipping at Phoenix and Torrey Pines led Woods to take two months off to fix it. He returned at the Masters, his chipping was not a major problem, and he tied for 17th. That was his best finish of the year until the Wyndham Championship.
And then he didn’t play another tournament. That hiatus ends today in the Bahamas.