Miami (AFP) – Tiger Woods embarks on the latest stage of his comeback at the Wells Fargo Championship on Thursday, refreshed from an extended post-Masters break and still thankful for the back surgery that saved his career.
The 14-time major winner has not played since finishing tied for 32nd at Augusta National last month, and returns to Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina this week for the first time since 2012.
The 42-year-old former world number one told reporters on Wednesday he had benefited from an extended break from golf following Augusta.
“I threw my clubs in the closet for about 10 days, got away from the game,” Woods said. “I didn’t touch a club, didn’t make a golf swing. Then I started to lift a little bit, to get my muscle strength back and eventually my speed. I’ve got it all back now.
“It felt great. It felt good to just shut it down, to reflect, analyse, and try and think about how I can win events.”
Woods only returned to the USPGA Tour this season after missing most of the previous two years through back injury.
His return following back fusion surgery has prompted an outpouring of goodwill from fans and fellow players, something Woods is still savouring.
“I’ve sensed it since I started playing this year,” Woods said. “I’ve been away from the game for a few years. The support’s been incredible.
“From the fans, to the players, the guys that I grew up playing against on the Champions Tour, the players that have emerged since I’ve been away. From one generation to the other, at both ends of the spectrum, it’s been incredible.”
– ‘Thankful to be back’ –
As recently as last September, before he underwent back surgery, he was uncertain he would ever play golf again.
“My back wasn’t fused. That was only September. I didn’t know if I would ever be able to play golf again, let alone get back out here on Tour,” Woods said. “These were all unknowns. So yeah, I’m very thankful to be back.
“There was a long period of time where I didn’t think I would ever play golf again. I was just hoping I could walk without pain. And now I’m out here playing against these guys.”
Woods’ back surgery has allowed him to rediscover the club head speed which he once took for granted. In March he registered the fastest club head speed of the season after clocking 129.2 miles per hour on a drive at the Valspar Championship.
“I didn’t have any speed the last four or five years because my back wasn’t very good,” Woods said. “What I thought was speed was not. It was slow motion.
“Swinging at 115 mph an hour is not very quick. I didn’t realise for a number of years how bad my back was until I had it fixed. It’s kind of neat. I’m seeing speeds and velocities I haven’t seen since my early 20s.”
Woods will be chasing only his second victory at Quail Hollow after winning the title in 2007. However he has not made the cut there since finishing fourth in 2009.
Woods said Wednesday the demanding 7,442-yard par-72 layout had grown more challenging in his absence.
“The golf course is much harder than it used to be,” Woods said. “It’s longer and it’s more difficult. The greens aren’t quite as fast as I remember but they are more difficult.
“I’ve got to get the ball on the fairway here. These greens are tough to hit from the fairway let alone the rough.
“So you have to get the ball on the fairway.”