Woods back but accepts his place

Andover Advertiser: Tiger Woods this week returns after back surgery in March insisting he is pain-free for the first time in two years Tiger Woods this week returns after back surgery in March insisting he is pain-free for the first time in two years

Mutiple major winner Tiger Woods is pain-free for the first time in two years but accepts he will never regain the game which saw him dominate golf for a decade.

The 38-year-old won the last of his 14 major titles in 2008 but since then he has struggled with injuries and the very public breakdown of his marriage.

His all-conquering spell between 1997 and 2008 saw him blow away rivals with a mixture of power and a single-mindedness not matched by his contemporaries.

However, the current crop on the PGA Tour are now hitting it further and Woods accepts he has to find other ways to win as he prepares to make his comeback from back surgery on March 31.

"I feel old. The Chinese kid (Guan Tianlang) who qualified for the Masters last year (aged 14) was born after I won the tournament for the first time and that is just not cool," the American told a press conference.

"That is what is coming: the next generation are taller, bigger and more physical - these kids in college, all the long-hitters are 6ft 2ins to 6ft 4ins.

"The difference as I have aged is I can't play the way I used to.

"I was number two in driving distance for a number of years just behind (John) Daly - things have changed dramatically.

"I have to rely on different parts of my game like strategy and course management.

"The amount of shots I have learned over the years has allowed me to be as consistent as I have been over the course of my career.

"The old adage is with age comes wisdom and I have certainly become more patient, especially having two little ones has definitely taught me a lot of patience, and it has carried on the golf course.

"I remember all the early years on tour when I would run 30 miles a week and still go play tournament golf - and I was winning but not realising how much damage I was doing.

"Now I have to pick my spots when I can and cannot push. When I was younger I didn't need treatment. That is no longer the case.

"But I'm pain-free - it's been a very long time, probably a good two years since I've felt this way."

Woods is ahead of schedule for a playing return as he had initially targeted next month's Open Championship at Royal Liverpool, where he last lifted the Claret Jug in 2008.

But after a carefully-managed programme of physiotherapy and dietary changes he feels ready to come back earlier - although he admits had this week's Quicken Loans National Tournament not been an event which benefited the Tiger Woods Foundation he would not be playing.

The former world number one's injury problems began in 2008 when he had season-ending reconstructive surgery on the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee immediately after winning the US Open.

He has had further problems with that knee and an Achilles tendon but the back injury proved to be the worst of all.

"Pre-procedure, right before I went in, I wasn't able to function, I couldn't get out of bed, I couldn't do any normal activities," he added.

"When I blew up my knee and even when I had Achilles problems I was still able to do things.

"Anyone who has had any kind of nerve impingement knows it is no joke but that part was relieved as soon as I got out of surgery.

"I felt I had my life back. I was able to do things, normal activities I took for granted."

Rehabilitation was a slow process, starting with putting before progressing to chipping, full swings right up to hitting a driver before finally getting back out on course for practice.

"I wanted to knock off some rush on the range so I didn't go out there and embarrass myself," Woods said.

"I broke 10 for nine the first time - just like it was when I was three so I'm sneaking up on it."

While physically he may not be in the running to win this week mentally nothing has changed.

"It has been interesting road. This has been quite a tedious little process but one where I got to a point where I can play competitive golf again," he said.

"Expectations don't change. That (to win) is the ultimate goal it is just that it is going to be harder this time.

"I've not had the amount of prep I would like but I am good enough to play and I am going to give it a go."

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