AUGUSTA, April 6- Tiger Woods has rediscovered the thrills of golf, something that put a claim on his heart before he ever met his wife Elin or began the secret extra-marital sex life that nearly destroyed him.
The 14-time major champion received a warm reception from spectators in a Masters practice round Monday at famed Augusta National Golf Club, then told reporters he has rediscovered the joy his skillful shotmaking had once brought.
"I’ve won numerous times the last few years but I wasn’t having anywhere near the amount of fun," Woods said. "Why? Because look at what I was engaged in. When you live a life where you are lying all the time, life is not fun.
"That’s where I was. Now that has been stripped all away and here I am and it feels fun again."
World number one Woods took his first steps down the road to redemption with his first public round of golf and first news conference since his private life became gossip headlines five months ago.
More than a dozen women have claimed sexual relationships with Woods, whose wife Elin will not attend the Masters, the first event for Woods after a five-month layoff to try to repair his personal life.
Woods said he took the support of his fans for granted as much he had his golf success or his wife in his fall from grace.
"So many kids have looked up to me, and so many fans have supported me over the years and I just want to say thank you to them," Woods said.
"Especially going through all of this, over the past few months, it really put things into perspective for me and into how much I’ve actually underappreciated the fans in the game of golf."
Many of the sponsors who made Woods the first billion-dollar sportsman have pulled back following the scandal. Woods is hoping to woo them back with his future work on and off the course.
"I made a lot of mistakes in my life and I totally understand why they would do that," Woods said. "Going forward, I hope I can prove to the other companies that I’m a worthy investment, that I can help their company grow and represent them well. I wasn’t doing it the right way because of what I was engaged in."
Woods even sees himself as a stronger person going forward, able to serve as an example for those facing similar troubles in life by virtue of the epic fall he has endured.
"I can help more people going forward, infinitely more, than I did prior to this," Woods said. "I need to be a better man than I was before. I’m trying as hard as I possibly can each day to get my life better and stronger.
"If I win championships along the way, so be it."
Woods, four majors shy of matching the all-time record held by Jack Nicklaus, humbled himself over missing his son’s first birthday and denied ever taking performance-enhancing drugs.
For the first time in a very long while, Woods said he simply went out Monday and played golf and had fun doing so, giving him renewed vigor to end his five-month competitive drought in Thursday’s first round of the Masters.
"I’m looking forward to the first tee and teeing off. I haven’t looked forward to that first shot in a long time," Woods said.
Woods laughed with playing partner Fred Couples and joked with spectators that were generally supportive during their practice round together.
"I didn’t know what to expect with regards to the reception and the galleries could not have been nicer," Woods said. "It was just incredible. The encouragement I got, it just blew me away.
"Today was just something that really touched my heart pretty good."
But Woods said his dream of breaking the Nicklaus record paled in comparison when he remembered how much he had hurt his family.
"The fact I won golf tournaments is irrelevant," Woods said of his success while leading a double life. "Winning golf tournaments is unimportant compared to all the damage I’ve done."
But that doesn’t mean Woods is any less committed to trying to win a fifth Masters crown this weekend.
"Nothing has changed," Woods said. "I’m going to try to go out there and win."
But Woods has changed, haunted by regrets that include missing son Charlie’s first birthday to complete 45 days of treatment for a condition he would not specify, reportedly sex addiction.
"I missed my son’s first birthday. That hurts a lot. I can’t go back to where I was," Woods said. "That was very bad. That was something I regret and probably will for the rest of my life."
Woods said he is not addicted to any medication and has never taken illegal drugs.