Tiger Woods ahead of PGA return: I still love competing

Tiger Woods reacts after making par on the third green during the final round of the Masters at Augusta National Golf Club

File. Tiger Woods's fitness will be under as much scrutiny as his game as he embarks on a season in which he has said he's optimistic he could play one tournament a month.. Picture: Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP

Published Feb 15, 2024


Tiger Woods tees it up in his first US PGA Tour event in more than 10 months on Thursday and his return at The Riviera Country Club has sparked a familiar longing in the 15-time major champion.

"A 'W' would be nice, right?" Woods said Wednesday of what he would consider a successful week at Riviera, the course where he made his PGA Tour debut as a 16-year-old high schooler and the one he has played more than any other without a tournament victory.

"Hopefully I can figure something out and get myself in there in contention and maybe get a 'W' at the end of the week.”

The familiar course in Pacific Palisades will provide the background for a new-look Woods, who will have a new caddie and new apparel after his decades-long partnership with Nike ended.

Putting the ankle to the test

It will also provide the most rigorous test he has faced since season-ending ankle fusion surgery last April -- two weeks after plantar fasciitis prompted him to withdraw from the third round at the Masters.

Woods says the procedure alleviated debilitating pain from the severe injuries he suffered in a February 2021 car crash, but his banged-up body will never again let him practice and play as he did in his prime.

"My ankle doesn't hurt anymore because no bones are rubbing anymore," he said. "Other parts of my body have to take the brunt of it... other parts of the body have to adapt.”

Woods says he feels it physically "each and every day" but added: "I still love competing, I love playing, I love being a part of the game of golf.

"This is the game of a lifetime and I don't ever want to stop playing.”

Woods's fitness will be under as much scrutiny as his game as he embarks on a season in which he has said he's optimistic he could play one tournament a month.

That could allow him to play all four major championships for the first time since 2019 -- the year he claimed his 15th major title at the Masters.

Woods said that since two "soft" starts in December -- at the Hero World Challenge and alongside son Charlie in the PNC Championship -- he's been gearing up to get "tour ready.”

"We have our work cut out for us," said Woods, who has the extra duty of hosting this week's tournament for the benefit of his charitable foundation.

Woods is scheduled to tee off on Thursday at 9:25 am (1725 GMT) alongside good friends Justin Thomas and Gary Woodland. Thomas is a two-time major winner and Woodland a former US Open champion who is back on tour after surgery to remove a brain tumor.

Better with Tiger

Woods will have experienced caddie Lance Bennett on his bag. After Woods's ankle surgery, long-time caddie Joe LaCava went to work for Patrick Cantlay, so this week Woods turned to Bennett, who has caddied for numerous players, including Matt Kuchar, Im Sung-jae and LPGA Hall of Famer Lorena Ochoa.

This year, Bennett has been working for tour rookie Adrien Dumont de Chassart of Belgium, who didn't qualify for this week's $20 million tournament, one of the tour's signature events.

World number one Scottie Scheffler headlines the elite field, but Northern Ireland star Rory McIlroy could potentially grab the top spot from Scheffler with a victory.

Last year's winner, Jon Rahm, is absent after making the jump to LIV Golf.

Max Homa, the 2021 champion who erased a three-shot final-round deficit before ultimately falling to Rahm last year, is hoping Woods will be handing him the trophy again on Sunday.

In the meantime, Homa was delighted to see Woods performing with relative ease on the course, where Woods played alongside Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen in Wednesday's pre-tournament pro-am.

"I'm just happy to see the man not limping as much," Homa said. "Every event's better when Tiger is here. I don't think it changes a whole lot, it just makes the event feel a bit bigger."