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Tiger Woods set to return at the Hero World Challenge and no one knows what to expect

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Tiger’s surgically repaired back and the chipping yips will foil the 14-time major champion’s efforts to succeed in his latest comeback to competitive golf — unless he returns healthy, in which case his competitors ‘Don’t have a chance,’ according to Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee.

Hero World Challenge - Final Round Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Brandel Chamblee is one Tiger Woods watcher who gives the former world No. 1 little to no chance of succeeding when he makes his latest return to the PGA Tour later this week.

Unless, of course, Tiger’s healthy, in which case the former world No. 1 would “annihilate the competition,” Chamblee claimed.

“No, is the short answer,” the Golf Channel analyst recently responded when Golf.com’s Ryan Asselta asked if the Big Cat could compete with the likes of Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, and Dustin Johnson.

Chamblee observed that premier athletes in every sport have come back from bad shoulders, elbows, knees, hips, and ankles. The four back surgeries Woods has undergone since March 2014, however, will stunt his ability to regain the winning form with which he captured 79 tour events, including 14 major titles.

“The one thing you will not get is a bad back followed by great athletic achievement,” Chamblee said. “You’re just not going to get it — especially a bad back by a 41-year-old.”

Woods, who is actually closer to 42 than 41 (his birthday is Dec. 30), last played tournament golf in February and to say things did not go well would be mighty generous. After starting his last attempt to revive his flagging career with a near-DFL finish at last year’s World Challenge, Tiger missed the cut at Torrey Pines and promptly flew to the Middle East, where he hacked his way to a miserable opening-round 77 and withdrew before Day 2.

Tiger has since posted a series of videos marking his progression from chipping and putting to hitting driver.

As in the past, when observers have gushed about how well Woods was playing at his home course in Florida (worst-ball 66, anyone?), Rickie Fowler earlier this month claimed that Tiger was out-distancing him by, like, a whole lot in their practice rounds.

Chamblee, during a recent interview, noted that each attempt by Tiger to revive his flagging career since he first hurt his back has ended the same way.

“He’s re-injured his back every single time he’s come back, every single time,” he reminded the listeners. “He gets cleared by the doctors to putt, he gets cleared to chip, he gets cleared to swing, and somebody he plays with, whether it’s Jesper [Parnevik] or Rickie or somebody else says he’s hitting it further than he’s ever hit it in his life.

“And then he comes out and he plays one or two events and then he walks off the golf course with a bad back.”

Hedging his bets it would seem, Chamblee surmised that if — and this is a huge “if” — Woods has changed the swing that causes him to keep damaging his back, and returns to the course completely healthy, his opponents better take cover.

“If Tiger Woods does come back and play with any semblance of the game he had,” Chamblee contended, “He will annihilate this generation, annihilate them. Absolutely annihilate them. They don’t have a chance.”

That’s quite a leap from his earlier observations, when Chamblee, as he has done for years as a Tiger pundit, posted and critiqued two photos of Woods’ swing — in this case, from 2001 and 2013 — and found the more recent effort wanting.

It was a review that drove Billy Horschel to criticize the commentator for not having enough knowledge to make such assessments.

Horschel went back and forth with the analyst after Chamblee termed the later motion “Trackman-drunk.” Chamblee further explained his critique, at Horschel’s prompting, leading the 2014 FedEx Cup winner to call him “a ghost on the range,” and suggest that the former tour pro had no idea what Woods and former coach Sean Foley were trying to accomplish.

The two eventually achieved detente, though we’re guessing BillyHo may not be too happy with Chamblee’s assessment that Tiger doesn’t stand a chance.

While Sergio Garcia recently questioned whether Woods could succeed in the next chapter of his playing career, Chamblee was far more direct about how he’s just not buying it. In addition to the back woes, Chamblee cited the emotional turmoil from Woods’ sex scandal, “likely some addictions,” and, of course, problems with his wedges, as serious impediments to the Big Cat’s ability to keep up with the young pups on tour.

The addictions referred to Woods’ Memorial Day arrest for DUI, after which a toxicology screen found a cocktail of heavy-duty pain-relieving drugs in the golfer’s system.

All of that might prevent a lesser person than Woods from trying to mount another comeback. But everything else, in Chamblee’s view, seemed almost secondary to those pesky chipping yips.

“I’ve seen no evidence that he’s over it,” he said.

Chamblee conceded that Woods had “played an event or two where he’s chipped decent,” though even then Tiger’s chips of some 32 feet were well outside the tour average of about eight-and-a-half feet.

“Instead of averaging eight feet for the week, which would be decent but nowhere near what it used to be, he’ll average 10 feet, or 12 feet, or 14 feet, if he has a decent week chipping,” he said.

The upshot for Chamblee?

“You cannot play the tour if you can’t chip,” he concluded.

Barring further injury or other unforeseen circumstances, Tiger — surgically repaired back, chipping yips, and all — will make his first start since February in the 18-player, no-cut event in the Bahamas that he hosts starting Thursday.

As with all things Tiger, it’s anybody’s guess as to which golfer shows up at Albany — the superstar who, in his heyday, caused opponents to throw up on their FootJoys just by appearing on the first tee, or the later version of himself who just can’t stay healthy and will be back on the DL before his 42nd birthday.

Fingers crossed it’s the former, for as Chamblee said last week — speaking for 99 percent of the golf world — “Nothing would please me more than to see Tiger Woods come back and play great golf.”