Nassau, Bahamas — Rickie Fowler was the first player to offer a scouting report on Tiger Woods ahead of his celebrated return to golf, hinting that Woods was hitting it “way by” him in some of their matches in Florida.
Fowler’s own game apparently was in pretty good shape, too.
Seven shots behind to start the final round of the Hero World Challenge, Fowler opened with seven straight birdies Sunday and closed with an 11-under 61 to set the course record at Albany Golf Club and win by four shots over Charley Hoffman.
Fowler played twice with Woods before he was runner-up at the OHL Classic in Mexico, and then a couple of more times before Thanksgiving.
“I think he sharpened me up a little bit,” Fowler said with a grin. “I’ve gotten a little scared of how good he was playing at home, thought I needed to start playing a little bit better or something.”
Fowler and Woods each had cause for celebrations, large and small, in the Bahamas.
Fowler won his second title of the year, making it the second time he has ended a year with multiple victories worldwide. Woods made a return to golf that was solid with his health and his game, and he headed into the holidays thinking about a schedule for 2018.
“I’m excited,” Woods said after closing with a 68. “This is the way I’ve been playing at home.”
In a week that began with so much curiosity over how Woods would perform, he had his best result in four years. More than his score, he looked strong from start to finish, including a vicious recoil on a 2-iron he hit from 265 yards on the third hole that ran over the back of the green.
Playing for the first time in 10 months while recovering from fusion surgery on his lower back — his fourth back surgery in three years — Woods shot another 31 on the front nine and closed with back-to-back bogeys to tie for ninth in an 18-man field.
It was his best result since a playoff loss at this holiday event in 2013 at Sherwood Country Club in California.
He has not said where he will start in 2018. The best bet is the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines, where he has won eight times.
Woods still finished 10 shots behind Fowler.
Then again, Fowler didn’t give anyone much of a chance.
Fowler was close to flawless on the front nine. He holed birdie putts of about 12 feet on the first two holes, hit a gap wedge to 3 feet on the par-5 third, made his toughest putt into the green from 15 feet on No. 4, and then holed a bunker shot on No. 5. He followed that with another wedge that spun back to a foot on the par-5 sixth, and he hit out of a bunker to about 7 feet on the next hole.
“I knew I needed to get off to a quick start to at least show Charley I was there,” Fowler said.