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Return of the roar — ‘Rusty’ Tiger seeks pain-free comeback

‘My game feels rusty. I haven’t played in a while.’

RICHARD HEATHCOTE/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE TIGER Woods is set to make a return from ankle surgery when he competes in the Hero World Challenge at the Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.

MIAMI (AFP) — Tiger Woods said his right ankle is without pain and he is not concerned about walking 72 holes this week in his return to competition for the first time since April ankle surgery.

Woods, a 15-time major winner, spoke ahead of Thursday’s start of the Hero World Challenge, a 20-player event he hosts at Albany Golf Club in the Bahamas.

“My game feels rusty. I haven’t played in a while,” Woods said.

“I’m excited to compete and play and I’m just as curious as all of you to see what happens because I haven’t done it in a while.”

Woods, who turns 48 on 30 December, is playing competitively for the first time since undergoing right ankle surgery in April on the same leg that suffered severe injuries in a 2021 car crash.

“I don’t have any of the pain I had at Augusta or pre-that in my ankle,” Woods said.

“Other parts are taking the brunt of the load so I’m a little sorer in other areas.”

“But the ankle is good so that surgery was a success.”

The 82-time PGA Tour winner has not played in an event since withdrawing from the third round of the Masters last April due to plantar fasciitis.

“I’ve played a lot of holes,” Woods said.

“But I haven’t used a pencil on a scorecard.”

Asked if he can still win, Woods replied, “Absolutely.”

Woods said he could play as much as once a month in 2024, likely starting at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, which benefits his charity foundation, and flowing into the majors.

“The best scenario would be maybe a tournament a month,” Woods said.

“I think that’s realistic.”

“I need to get myself ready for all of that. This week is a big step in that direction.”

Woods was limping around Augusta National in pain seven months ago on the same layout where he won his first major in 1997 and his most recent in 2019.

“At some point in time, I was going to have to get my ankle replaced or fused,” Woods said.

“That timetable was sped up. They weren’t expecting me to put that many forces into that ankle when I hit drivers.”

“The ankle just went. It was bone on bone. That’s why you saw me limping and not feeling very good. We chose the fusion and put the hardware in there.”

“The next part was the hard part — six months of doing nothing.”

Since the accident, Woods has struggled to walk 72 holes. He made his comeback at the 2022 Masters, finishing 47th, but has not finished a major championship since.

“I’m not concerned at all walking it,” Woods said. “I don’t have any of that ankle thing that I had. It’s the other parts of my body — my knee hurts, my back. The forces go somewhere else.”

Woods said he is not thinking about serving as the US captain for the 2025 Ryder Cup, citing his duties on the PGA Tour Policy Board trying to finalize a merger agreement with the Saudi backers of LIV Golf.

“There’s too much at stake with our tour to think about a Ryder Cup right now,” he said.

“We have to get this done. We have to be focused on this.”

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