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Around the Nation (Nov. 28): Tiger Woods slowly getting back to golf

After 15 months away and 2 back surgeries, Tiger Woods is ready for tournament golf again

Associated Press Published: November 29, 2016 4:00 AM

GOLF

Tiger gets back to golf with questions about head, not body

NASSAU, Bahamas -- Tiger Woods has gone through two back surgeries since he last played a golf tournament 15 months ago. He had another back surgery that knocked him out of the Masters for the first time in 2014. He had four knee surgeries before that.

None of that matters to Ernie Els when Woods returns to competition this week.

Els is more curious about what's going on in his head.

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"The talent's there. It's been proven. It doesn't go away," Els said. "It's what you think of yourself. It's what you think where you are. We look at this great player, but he's not seeing the same stuff in his own mind. A lot of us are like that. When you've achieved as much as he has ... it's a shock to the system not to play as good as you have been. To look at other people looking at you like, 'Hey, you're not the same guy,' that's hard to take."

Els, perhaps more than any other player, has a deep golfing connection with Woods.

He was the player Woods sought out 20 years ago at Royal Lytham & St. Annes when deciding whether to turn pro. They had so many meaningful battles, and Woods almost always got the better of him. Els was runner-up to Woods seven times, the most of any player.

Els designed the Albany golf course where Woods comes back from the longest layoff of his career. He plans to be in the Bahamas, and he is as eager as anyone else to see how a guy who won 79 times on the PGA Tour, including 14 majors, stacks up against a generation that grew up in awe of how Woods played golf.

The Hero World Challenge is a holiday tournament with an 18-man field and no cut. Even so, it commands as much attention as any tournament this year. Woods has been a star attraction his entire career, and the appetite is even stronger after an absence that dates to Aug. 23, 2015.

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"I can't wait to watch, either, just to see him play," Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III said. "The last time I saw him play, I won. It's hard to believe it's been that long. I've seen his swing. I've seen him on video. He's sent me clips, and I've heard the description of how he feels. I'm excited to see him play."

"You've got to start somewhere," he added. "And I want to see the start."

Woods already has had one false start. He signed up to play the Safeway Open, only to pull out three days later because he said he felt "vulnerable." That followed a week as assistant captain at the Ryder Cup, and cramming in practice the week before with results that made him want to wait.

AUTO RACING

Ty Dillon to drive for Germain Racing in 2017

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Ty Dillon will race full time in NASCAR's top series next year for Germain Racing.

Germain Racing announced Monday that Dillon will replace Casey Mears in the No. 13 Chevrolet. Mears had driven the car since the second half of the 2010 season.

Dillon has made 18 Cup starts over the last three years. Robert "Bootie" Barker will return as the team's crew chief in 2017, and GEICO will be back as the primary sponsor.

The Germain team shares a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing. Ty Dillon is Childress' grandson, and his older brother, Austin, drives for RCR.

Mears has one career Cup victory, the 2007 Coca-Cola 600 while he drove for Hendrick Motorsports.

ICE HOCKEY

Florida Panthers announce the firing of coach Gerard Gallant

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Gerard Gallant was a coach of the year finalist last season after guiding the Florida Panthers to a division title and the best regular season in franchise history.

He made it through 22 games this season, before the Panthers decided change was needed.

The Panthers fired Gallant and assistant coach Mike Kelly on Sunday night, and announced the moves publicly on Monday morning. The firing came after the Panthers' 3-2 loss at Carolina -- one that dropped Florida to 11-10-1, good for only 10th in the Eastern Conference.

General manager Tom Rowe will take over as coach, and will remain there for the rest of the season.

"My focus is solely on turning our season around, fixing our special teams and securing a playoff berth," Rowe said.

Gallant was under contract through the 2018-19 season, having signed an extension back in January. Less than a year after getting that new deal, he was getting into a taxi in a surreal scene outside the arena in Raleigh, North Carolina where he coached the Panthers for the last time.

"In seeking to earn a second consecutive playoff berth and bring a Stanley Cup to South Florida, we believe that new leadership is required immediately," Panthers owner Vincent Viola said.


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