AUGUSTA, Georgia (Reuters) - Now ranked 111th, Tiger Woods appeared far more concerned about becoming the world’s number one dad on Tuesday than golf’s top player.
Surrounded by his two children and ski champion girlfriend Lindsey Vonn, an at ease Woods seemed oblivious to the thousands of spectators gathered around the Augusta National practice green and looked more prepared to head out on a family picnic than make a headline-grabbing comeback at this week’s Masters.
In many ways, the year’s first major will be a family outing for the Woods clan with the 14-time major winner scheduled to make a rare appearance in Wednesday’s par-3 contest where young daughter Sam and son Charlie take on caddie duties.
Vonn will also be on hand to offer her support in the same way that Woods did for his dowhilling darling in Cortina, Italy and Vail, Colorado earlier this year when she made her run at the alpine skiing record books.
Despite all the family friendly activities, this is very much a business trip for Woods and the former world number one made it clear his business is still winning golf tournaments.
”I want to win,“ declared Woods. ”The whole idea is to prepare and do that, and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.
”I worked my ass off. I worked hard. It was something people would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again.
“Competing is still the same. I‘m trying to beat everybody out there. That hasn’t changed.”
Having missed the Masters last year while recovering from back surgery, Woods’ fitness troubles followed him into this season and he will be competing for the first time in two months after a self-imposed absence from the PGA Tour due to poor form.
During his last competitive round at Torrey Pines on Feb. 5, Woods walked off the course after 11 holes with his face contorted in pain, unable to bend over and pick up his own tee.
But back at Augusta National, the 39-year-old American has been spotted dancing on the practice range, his grimmaced expressions replaced by a confident gaze and an engaging smile.
Set to play in his 20th Masters, Woods possesses an undeniable comfort level at Augusta that is reflected by his four green jackets.
Woods has made every effort to make himself even more at home by playing practice rounds on Monday and Tuesday with one of his oldest and dearest friends, 1998 Masters winner Mark O‘Meara.
He has Vonn and his children at his side while the par-3 contest, once an unwanted distraction, is something he is now looking forward to nearly as much as the Masters itself.
”My two little ones are going to be out there with me. It’s special,“ said Woods. ”As I said, this tournament means so much to me in so many different ways.
“It’s nice to be able to share these things with my family and it just means the world to me. They are excited, I‘m excited and can’t wait to go out there.”
Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes