Golf Golf

Pain-free Tiger Woods ready to get back in swing

Tiger Woods is playing his first US PGA Tour event since missing the cut at last year’s Farmers Insurance Open © GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Sean M. Haffey

LA JOLLA, United States, Jan 24 – Tiger Woods, confident that debilitating back pain is behind him, tees off at the Farmers Insurance Open on Thursday aiming to build himself into a contender once again.

“To be honest with you, I just want to start playing on the Tour and getting into a rhythm of playing a schedule again,” the former world number one said as he prepared to play his first US PGA Tour event in a year — and just his second since August of 2015.

Last year’s much-anticipated comeback ground to a halt in February, and Woods had spinal fusion surgery in April.

He says this year’s return is different, since instead of managing his pain he is now playing pain-free for the first time in years.

“It feels good to go out there and practice, it feels good not to have a burning sensation going down my leg into my foot or collapse when I’m walking, things of that nature,” Woods said. “I haven’t felt this good in years.”

Woods tees off at 10:40 a.m. (18:40 gmt) alongside Charley Hoffman and Patrick Reed on Torrey Pines’ South Course.

Caddy Joe LaCava hands Tiger Woods a club on the fourth tee during the pro-am round of the Farmers Insurance Open, at Torrey Pines Golf Course in San Diego, California, on January 24, 2018 © GETTY/AFP / Sean M. Haffey

That’s where he claimed the most recent of his 14 major titles, at the 2008 US Open.

Since then his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 majors has stalled, and even if his health holds up it remains to be seen if he will have the game to beat the young stars who have risen in his absence.

That includes 23-year-old Spaniard Jon Rahm, the defending champion who supplanted Jordan Spieth as number two in the world with a win on Sunday in the CareerBuilder Challenge and could replace Dustin Johnson as world number one with a victory.

“A lot of names I haven’t seen, I haven’t played with, I haven’t seen their games,” Woods said. “We’ll see.”

Woods said he’s been able to play six days a week at home.

But tournament play on the North and South courses at Torrey Pines, where dense rough lines the fairways and the greens were already firm early in the week, will be a different challenge, even for a player who has won eight times at Torrey.

Woods said the last time golf seemed “easy” was in 2013 — when he won five times on the USPGA Tour to take his tally of titles to 79.

Not coincidentally, he hasn’t won since.

“There are times when it is easy to go out there and shoot 65s, I just need to get my game to where it’s like that again,” Woods said.

“A lot of the guys have been playing well, have been playing a lot and they’re seasoned. I know this is early in the year, but they’re seasoned already and I’m not.

“I’m not there yet,” added Woods, who says he is building towards the Masters, where he has won four green jackets but hasn’t played since 2015. “But I’ll get some tournaments under my belt and keep progressing.”