Woods to unleash inner tiger as he finally returns to PGA Tour

Vice-captain Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during practice prior to the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club on Sept 29, 2016, in Chaska, Minnesota.
Vice-captain Tiger Woods of the United States looks on during practice prior to the 2016 Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club on Sept 29, 2016, in Chaska, Minnesota. PHOTO: AFP

NEW YORK • Former world No. 1 Tiger Woods is "ready to go" as he prepares for his return to competitive golf this Friday after almost 16 months out.

The 40-year-old is making a belated comeback, having pulled out of the PGA Tour's Safeway Open last month, three days before the event, stating his game was "vulnerable".

Having spent nearly two months working to improve things - and testing new clubs after his long-time sponsor Nike announced it was pulling out of equipment manufacture - Woods has arrived in the Bahamas for his own hosting of the Hero World Challenge, an event which carries world ranking points and an £800,000 (S$1.41 million) first prize.

"I'm not dead. I'm ready to go," he told ESPN. "I'm nervous for every tournament I play in, whether it's after a lay-off, or six in a row or a Major.

"I care. If I care, I'm nervous and it's good to be that way. To have that nervous energy and channel it into aggression, into focus, concentration - that's good stuff. If I wasn't nervous, that would mean I didn't care. I don't want to be out there flat."

Woods, who has been absent since August last year after two back operations, has slumped to 879th in the world and his comeback has had the added complication of having to find new clubs.

In Nassau, he will continue to use his Nike irons but will play with TaylorMade woods and a Bridgestone ball. "The most important thing is the ball," he said. "Once you find a ball, then you can work around everything else."

Critics would argue his mindset may be of more significance, with rumours persisting of chipping "yips" having returned to his game.

That was believed to be one of the reasons for abandoning his comeback last month.

Woods is adamant, however, that he made the right call.

"It was a good decision in the end," he said. "The competitor inside me wanted to go so badly and was itching to go.

"I had played feeling worse but what's the point in rushing back when I've waited over a year to begin with? I've waited this long. It's not going to hurt to wait just this much longer."

Woods has picked the most comfortable environment he could to return, with the 18-man field including 11 of his team-mates who were involved in the United States' Ryder Cup victory two months ago.

Among the others playing are Open champion Henrik Stenson and England's Olympic gold medallist Justin Rose, and Woods is under no illusions about the quality of golf he will have to reach.

"I'm out here playing and competing," he said. "That part is really neat. Then there is that part of me that is the competitor who wants to beat these guys. I want to compete."

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 29, 2016, with the headline 'Woods to unleash inner tiger as he finally returns to PGA Tour'. Print Edition | Subscribe