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Returning to a golf course after one of the longest lay-offs of his illustrious career, 14-time Major winner Tiger Woods is feeling “fitter than he has been in a very long time” but also nervous going into his own tournament, the Hero World Challenge, which begins at the Albany Golf Club on Thursday.
Exactly a month away from his 41st birthday, Woods has taken hundreds of pain-free swings preparing for his long-awaited return at the sunny and windy Nassau.
“I am nervous but I am looking forward to it. It shows that I care,” says Woods.
“I am nervous. That’s good. As I have always said every tournament I have played I have always been nervous. That means I care. Sometimes I am at home, tinkering around with my buddies, just saying I don’t care what’s going on but I care. I can channel that energy into focus, aggression, a heightened feeling. I want to to feel that. But it’s upto me to control. That’s something I haven’t done in 15-16 months.
“I am going to try and get a feel for here. A lot of players talk about getting into the flow of the round – I need to find that flow quickly,” he added.
Woods and his kids had not been keeping well.
“I am leaner than I would like to be. I got sick, my kids got sick. My son got it, daughter got it, I got it and then I started feeling crappy then he got it again, then he got it again and then she got it again. Before I could get it (again) I came here. I am down than I would like to be, but I am fitter than I have been in a very long time. I would like to be a little bit heavier now.”
Woods says in the time he was away from the sport, he missed the competition and the camaraderie among his peers.
“I have missed the camaraderie. The fraternity… of being out here. I mean these guys… these guys are my friends. I know we are trying to beat each other all the time, but we are friends.
“Once we are inside the ropes, it’s a different story. Now we are competitors. Now we are there to compete. Now we are there to win, but outside of it, going out there and having dinner and having a few drinks with the guys, we have been doing that and then I just had merely to get out here. I missed that, I missed the needling and missed the jabbing … that part is good.
“It’s been good to see the guys out here again. I got a chance to experience that at the Ryder Cup but…I want to be the player.”
Woods was accompanied by Pawan Munjal, CMD, Hero MotoCorp ahead of the tournament.
Woods, who has held the world number ranking for the longest time, is scheduled to tee it up Thursday, marking his first competitive round since the Wyndham Championship in August, 2015. He is the only five-time champion of the Hero World Challenge, having won the tournament in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2011.
Asked how humbling has the experience of not being able to operate at the same level as he did in the past and when did he realise that, Woods says, “Mid 20s…It is what it is. I had a couple of knee surgeries back then. My first knee surgery was back in 94. I was 18. I was in college. I have had more (surgeries) since then. So I have not had that athleticism and agility and speed since my early mid 20s…It’s not quite the same as you get old. And you have to make adjustments.”
That he is past 40 has hit him, and the American, who has plummeted to 898 in world rankings, laughs and adds, “Oh yeah It has hit me. There is no doubt about that. I have some grey stuff turning up here (points to his beard), I am taking stuff from top (head) and putting it down here.”