WINDERMERE, Florida (Reuters) - Tiger Woods has not played competitively in nearly four months, but the injury plagued former world number one has not altered his mindset for this week’s Hero World Challenge event — win.
Winning is something Woods has not yet done this year, in a truncated season marked by back surgery in March and struggles after his attempted return that forced him to set aside his clubs after missing the cut at PGA Championship in August.
The 38-year-old proclaimed himself healthy and on the way back after working with a new swing consultant, if perhaps a bit rusty.
“It felt good to be out there,” Woods told reporters after Wednesday’s pro-am on the eve of the opening round of the elite 18-player event that benefits his foundation.
“Obviously, been playing at home with my boys for a little bit of cash, but still (that is) a little bit different. Every shot counts a little bit more. (But) Felt good.”
It also felt comfortable for Woods, who is staging the event this year at Isleworth the enclave he had been home for over a decade before moving to Jupiter Island.
Asked if he had the usual designs on winning that carried him to a collection of 14 majors, second only to Jack Nicklaus’s 18, Woods said: “Obviously, or I wouldn’t enter.”
Some of the top-notch players invited to the event said the tournament host was looking like the Woods of old.
“What I saw from Tiger from the side in the 10, 20 balls that I watched him, it looked a lot freer,” Steve Stricker said after sharing the driving range.
“Didn’t look like he was getting in his way. Looked like the club was going through a lot freer. Looked like it was on a better path.”
Zach Johnson, the 2007 Masters champion, also had a favorable impression. “It looked great. I mean, the compression looked there, the turn looked there.
“Watched the first two, three, four balls and then it hit me — ‘Oh, wait a minute, he hasn’t played in a while. It looked like he was just kind of riding a bike.”
The balky back limited Woods to eight tournaments in a season in which he missed two cuts and withdrew from two events.
Stricker warned not to count Woods out.
“I think if he starts swinging it better and starts feeling good about what he’s doing again, it won’t take long for him to be at the top of the game again,” he said.
Editing by Steve Keating.