NASSAU, Bahamas (AFP) - World top-10 rivals to Tiger Woods said Wednesday they expect the 14-time major winner needs time and patience before there's any chance he regains the form that made him a legend.
Woods ends the longest layoff of his career after nearly 16 months in Thursday's opening round of the Hero World Challenge, an 18-player invitational featuring six top-10 players.
Number eight Patrick Reed will tee off alongside US compatriot Woods at noon (1700 GMT).
"I'm really excited for golf to have Tiger back and to have that honor, it's going to be awesome. I'm looking forward to it. It should be fun," Reed said.
"I still want to beat him. Tiger still wants to beat me. I want him to play well not only for the game of golf, I want him to play well for him. But at the same time you're out there trying to win a golf tournament."
The 72-hole showdown at 7,303-yard Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas is the first competitive event for Woods in 466 days, since finishing 10th at Greensboro in August 2015 and undergoing back surgery twice in the weeks that followed.
"This is a perfect week for him to come back being fully healthy," two-time major winner Jordan Spieth said. "Less people are out there watching. He can play quickly. He's playing around a lot of people he knows on a place he's familiar with."
But fifth-ranked Spieth warned that Woods will not challenge for major titles instantly.
"I think he has accepted the fact he will be patient," Spieth said. "Like anybody that takes off a year and a half, you don't just come back and expect anything. It's going to take a little time.
"I just hope everyone gives him time. I hope he has the time to fall into a rhythm and just get enough tournaments where he can build up that."
Just the hope of seeing Woods on form again has created a buzz in the wealthy Caribbean enclave.
"He's still just turning every head," Spieth said. "He's very excited, seems very confident. We all hope for many reasons that he comes back fully healthy and his game's fully back."
One of those reasons is to do what South Korean Yang Yong-Eun did at the 2009 PGA Championship, outplaying Woods over the last 18 holes for a major crown.
"It was a dream for all of us young guys to one day grow up and battle Tiger on a Sunday when he was playing his best," Spieth said. "And see if you can Y.E. Yang it, see if you can pull off a shot where you can take him down."
Reigning British Open champion Henrik Stenson, the world number four from Sweden, said Woods, who turns 41 in a month, might never match the glory days of his 2000-2001 Tiger Slam.
"I think it would be hard, where golf is at right now, to be as dominant as Tiger was even if Tiger were now to play as good as he did in 2000," Stenson said. "The main thing is that his back is in good shape and he's healthy."
Stenson, however, isn't ready to write off more magic from 898th-ranked Woods, whose 79 career PGA titles are three shy of Sam Snead's all-time record.
"He has been out of competitiveness for quite some time so it might be a little while before you find your bearings again," Stenson said. "But he has done some remarkable things throughout his career and if there's someone that can jump right back up and play some great golf again, that would be him."
Third-ranked Dustin Johnson, the reigning US Open champion, won't rule out anything where Woods is concerned.
"When he was at his peak, he was very impressive. Wouldn't surprise me if he got back to, I don't know about quite that caliber, but who knows," Johnson said.
"He has been working very hard at it, so I expect him to play pretty well. Whether he'll win or not, that's a whole different feat. I predict he'll do pretty well."