Wednesday 13 December 2017

'I'm not dead. I'm ready to go' - Tiger Woods makes long-awaited return to golf this week

Tiger Woods
Tiger Woods

Carl Markham

Former world number one Tiger Woods is "ready to go" as he prepares for his return to competitive golf after almost 16 months out.

The 40-year-old is making a belated comeback having pulled out of the PGA Tour's Safeway Open in October 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 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 2015 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 at the last minute in October.

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 come back in, 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 other 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.''

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