PGA Tour

Pain-free Woods ready to 'grind' in latest comeback

Tiger Woods (Getty)
Tiger Woods (Getty)

La Jolla - Tiger Woods's eight wins at Torrey Pines notwithstanding, the 14-time major champion says he's stepping into the unknown when he tees it up at the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday. 

"I don't know what to expect," Woods said Wednesday - and that applies not only to his own game but also to the young rivals like defending tournament champion Jon Rahm who have surged to the forefront as Woods recovered from spinal fusion surgery last year. 

"I think my expectations have tempered a little bit because I haven't played," said Woods, who won the last of his majors at Torrey Pines at the 2008 US Open - an epic playoff victory over Rocco Mediate despite playing with a damaged left knee and stress fractures in his leg. 

"I'm going to grind it, give it everything I possibly have," added Woods, who looked relaxed and confident as he prepared for his first official US PGA Tour event since missing the cut at Torrey Pines last year. 

Woods said he's no longer playing with the threat of the back pain that cut short his comeback bid last year - after he'd missed all of the 2016 season. 

"I haven't felt this good in years so I'm excited about it," Woods said. 

"There's no pain. I'm not flinching, it doesn't hurt as I take the club back, it doesn't hurt right before impact, it doesn't hurt after impact, it doesn't hurt when I walk. 

"I can let it go, I can hit it and I'm getting the ball out there a little bit. 

"I'm starting to hit some shots, I'm starting to shape the golf ball again and now I've got to start doing it in a tournament, hitting the shapes, the shots, those numbers." 

Curiosity as to whether Woods can make this latest comeback stick has put the 42-year-old squarely in the spotlight this week, even as 23-year-old Rahm chases a victory that could see him supplant Dustin Johnson atop the world rankings. 

"I think everyone is intrigued to see," four-time major champion Rory McIlroy said at the Dubai Desert Classic. "Even scrolling through Instagram this morning and seeing some of the clips from yesterday, seeing how he's swinging, seeing how he's moving - I think everyone wants to see how he gets on." 

Reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, also in Dubai, sounded a cautious note.

"In my opinion, it's a big question mark to see how he's going to be able to do physically," Garcia said. 

But Woods said that since his encouraging outing in the unofficial Hero World Challenge in December, he's been honing his game at home, playing up to six days a week. 

He is still adjusting to some decreased flexibility. His decision to forge ahead without a swing coach came about simply because he didn't know of anyone with enough familiarity with his situation to be of help. 

"I'd like to meet somebody who can swing it over 120 miles an hour with a fused back," he said. "No one understands that." 

He acknowledged that Torrey Pines, playing firm and fast in the midst of a dry California winter, would make for a challenging return to tour action. 

"I've got to start somewhere," he said as he prepared to take the first step on a path he hopes will lead him back to the Masters. 

I'm just trying to build toward April," said Woods, a four-time Masters champion who hasn't played at Augusta National since 2015. "I'm looking forward to playing a full schedule and getting ready for the Masters and I haven't done that in a very long time."

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