MIAMI • Tiger Woods warmed up for his Valspar Championship debut this week by playing a nine-hole practice round with United States Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk and fellow vice-captains Davis Love III and Steve Stricker.
Former world No. 1 Woods has enjoyed a week off since earning a top-12 finish at the Honda Classic as he bounced back from a missed cut at the previous week's Genesis Open, and is delighted with the progress he has made with both his fitness and form.
Furyk was impressed with Woods' swing speed, which ranked him second in the driving distance statistics at the Honda event.
He even declared that the 42-year-old looked close to the Woods of old after getting a close look at the Innisbrook Resort's Copperhead Course on Tuesday.
"His game seems pretty sharp," Furyk said in a question-and-answer session with the PGA of America. "I know he wasn't happy with Riviera, but he came back on a difficult course at PGA National in the Honda and had a strong finish. It's impressive.
"Originally I noticed he looked more fluid and the swing looks like the Tiger of old.
CLAWING HIS WAY BACK
The concern had been getting back to speed. And, boy, did he bury those concerns last week. They were showing swing speed stats on TV and he's got it all back.
JIM FURYK, United States Ryder Cup captain, on why he feels post-surgery Tiger Woods is fit enough to play competitively again.
"The concern had been getting back to speed. And, boy, did he bury those concerns last week. They were showing swing speed stats on TV and he's got it all back. That tells me he's very fit.
"Getting back to top form will take some time, but all this is good for him. Again, you learn so much more when you're out there playing in tournaments.
"Playing Valspar - a tournament he hasn't played before - is terrific. And then playing Bay Hill? That's a great sign too. It's all prep for the Masters."
After Valspar, Woods will head to Bay Hill for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his fourth tournament in five weeks, at a venue where he has won eight times before. The back-to-back tournaments are part of his preparations for the US Masters at Augusta National from April 5-8.
He will tee off in today's opening round alongside world No. 4 Jordan Spieth and Swedish world No. 14 Henrik Stenson.
The impressive Valspar field also includes four-time Major winner Rory McIlroy, Masters champion Sergio Garcia and world No. 5 Justin Rose. World No. 71 Bill Haas will be making his first start since he was a passenger in a fatal car crash three weeks ago that took the life of a friend.
Woods returned to competition this year following spinal fusion surgery last April and is seemingly pain-free and surprising many with his level of play.
The 14-time Major winner was last month named as an assistant captain for the September Ryder Cup, but he then revealed his desire to make his eighth appearance as a player.
Furyk said the prospect of Woods being both a player and a vice-captain at this year's Ryder Cup would be a "nice problem to have".
"Hey, look, I'm a fan of Tiger Woods. I'd love to see him get into position to make the team on points, or get himself in position to be considered if he didn't make it automatically," added Furyk.
"We left our conversation on the topic of Tiger being a playing vice-captain with this: Let's cross that bridge when we get to it. But it sure would be a nice problem to have."
Day 1: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 3am