AKRON, Ohio (Reuters) - Tiger Woods may have been sidelined by injury for three months but fellow American Hunter Mahan expects the 14-times major winner to return to form with a vengeance at this week’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.
While Woods is likely to be rusty on his return to competition following a lengthy layoff, Mahan believes the former world number one will have extra motivation after being written off by many as a shadow of his former dominant self.
“I’ve never seen anyone like Tiger,” Mahan told reporters on Wednesday ahead of his title defense at Firestone Country Club. “He’s one of those ‘once-an-era’ type of guys who’s kind of changing the game forever. It’s great that he’s back.
“He was the standard of the game that we’ve never seen before, getting his game back there and back to where he knows he’s capable of doing because it was pretty special for a while. I think he’s very motivated and that’s very scary.”
Asked why the prospect of Woods being extra motivated was scary, Mahan replied: “Because there’s so much doubt now. We always used to doubt him and he’d always prove us wrong.
“But this is serious doubt because we have no idea how healthy he is. I don’t think anyone knows except him and probably his physicians.”
Woods, a seven-times winner at Firestone, hurt his left knee ligaments and Achilles tendon during the Masters in April.
He has not competed since he withdrew from the Players Championship at Sawgrass on May 12 after completing just nine holes and later said he had made a mistake in deciding to play that PGA Tour event.
“Tiger’s been sitting on his rear end for a few months trying to get healthy again,” said Mahan, who won last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational by two shots. “He’s ready to go.
“I think he’s just focused about trying to get back and win. I’m guessing he’s finally healthy. I don’t think he’d come back if he was not healthy again. I just don’t think you’d want to go through that setback again.
“This is a great place for him. I know he didn’t play well (here) last year, but I don’t expect that to happen again. It’s just good timing for him to come back and start really playing good golf.”
Mahan felt Woods had added incentive at Firestone with so much recent media speculation on players such as U.S. Open champion Rory McIlroy of Northern Irishman being the ‘next Tiger’.
“There’s a lot of talk of all these other players — this guy is going to be this guy, he’s going to step right in there — which is kind of crazy,” said Mahan, a three-times winner on the PGA Tour.
“For some of the young guys, they’ve never seen Tiger Woods play ‘Tiger Woods’ golf. They’ve never even come close to seeing it.
“I don’t think Tiger has to prove anything but ... he takes every single thing that someone says and he’s going to turn it into this massive gas on a fire that he’s got burning right now. I think he’s ready, man.”
Editing by Frank Pingue