TOKYO • Having not swung a club for two months since the BMW Championship, Tiger Woods was a relieved man after shaking off the rust in a made-for-TV exhibition yesterday.
His knee, now surgically repaired for the fifth time, stood up to the test at The Challenge: Japan Skins and although the golf was nowhere near as intense as tournament play, the former world No. 1 revealed that it was "nice not having it catch and lock up".
Woods is in Tokyo this week to play in the inaugural Zozo Championship, the first PGA Tour event to be held in Japan and the second of a near US$30 million (S$40.8 million) three-event Asian swing.
The Challenge, which is the first skins game to take place on the Tour since 2008, is the prelude to Thursday's tournament, and it was knockabout stuff at the Narashino Country Club.
There was plenty of banter, needling and jabbing to keep the packed galleries enthralled as Woods, Rory McIlroy, Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day tried to win holes outright for cash or "skins" that will be donated to charity.
Australian Day came out on top with US$210,000, while Woods and McIlroy scooped US$60,000 each and Matsuyama US$20,000.
PATCHED UP & READY TO GO
I understand what it takes to come back from it. It's been nice to have movement again... I've got full range of motion and have no pain squatting.
'' TIGER WOODS, on his condition following a fifth knee surgery in August.
Masters champion Woods, playing in Japan for the first time since 2006, was delighted to play in front of a "fantastic atmosphere" before confirming he had to go under the knife in August if he was to take part at Zozo and the Presidents Cup in December.
"Unfortunately, I've been down this road," he said. "This is my fifth operation on it. I understand what it takes to come back from it.
"It's been nice to have movement again... I've got full range of motion and have no pain squatting."
The United States team captain also dropped a heavy clue he might use one of his four Presidents Cup captain's picks on himself, something Phil Mickelson has insisted it should be an "automatic" choice.
The 15-time Major winner must firm up his selection on Nov 2 and if he takes up one of the places in Melbourne, that would leave Kevin Kisner, Tony Finau, Gary Woodland, Rickie Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Mickelson fighting for the remaining three slots.
"It (the return to fitness) made me more hopeful that I could play this week, play Hero (Challenge) and play Australia," he said. "The way I was feeling towards the middle part of the year, it was going to be a tall order to be able to do it all."
The world No. 10 also reiterated he wanted to come back to Japan to star at next year's Tokyo Olympics.
"I'd love to play in a Games," Woods added. "It would be an honour to represent my country. Hopefully next year, I can have a good year and qualify."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS