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Tiger Woods finds bright side in otherwise dismal return after 4 months away: no pain

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WINDERMERE, Florida — Tiger Woods tied for last place in his return to golf after four months and found at least one reason for optimism.

At least he has his health.

Except for flu-like symptoms on Saturday, Woods made it through 72 holes of the Hero World Challenge by swinging as hard as he wanted without feeling any pain. In his eyes, that far outweighed the shocking sight of so many duffed chips.

Woods muffed two more chips on the par-5 13th hole on his way to a triple bogey. He rallied with two late birdies for a 72 and shared last place in the 18-man field at Isleworth with Hunter Mahan at even-par 288.

He finished 26 shots behind Jordan Spieth.

"I hadn't played in four months," Woods said. "To come out here and not play in any kind of pain is great progress, and to be able to hit the ball as hard as I want really without flinching."

Woods had back surgery a week before the Masters to alleviate a pinched nerve. That kept him out of golf for about three months. After missing the cut in the PGA Championship on Aug. 9, he shut it down the last four months to strengthen his muscle structure.

PHOTO: Tiger Woods chips the ball down the fairway during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Windermere, Fla. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)
Tiger Woods chips the ball down the fairway during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Windermere, Fla. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)

"I made some progress," Woods said. "I hadn't played in four months and I'm in absolutely no pain, which is nice. To be able to go all out on some of these drives like I did this week really enforces what I'm doing is the right thing for my body."

Different about this return to golf — his fifth in the last five years due to injury — is that Woods also is working with his third swing coach in the last five years. Chris Como walked every round, and Woods said he would consult with him during a week of practice before resting for the holidays.

He did not say when he would return. During an engaging spot in the broadcast booth, NBC Sports announcer Dan Hicks asked about his schedule and mentioned Hawaii.

"It won't be the Tournament of Champions," Woods said with a laugh.

Even though he tied for 17th, it was his best finish of the year. Woods tied for 25th at Doral in his final tournament before back surgery.

The biggest surprise was his short game. Woods said he fell into a mixture of his old swing and what he is trying to do now. He had eight chips that he flubbed, four of them on the 13th hole.

Steve Stricker played the final round with Woods and said he thought his swing looked better.

"He's going through it a little more freer," Stricker said. "Obviously, his short game — putting and chipping — is not up to snuff with what he was expecting out of himself, or anyone else for that matter. But he's taking a good rip at it. With any new swing, you're going to have challenges. It's going to take time."

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PHOTO: Tiger Woods chips his ball from the bunker on the third hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament on Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Windermere, Fla. (AP Photo/Willie J. Allen Jr.)
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