x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Woods happy to be back

William Johnson hears from the world No 1 as he looks back at the injury that forced him out of last year's action.

Tiger Woods stands on the ninth fairway during a practice round  yesterday ahead of the 138th British Open Championship at Turnberry Golf course in south-west Scotland, which begins tomorrow. The American hopes to mount a strong challenge, but is expecting tough weather conditions.
Tiger Woods stands on the ninth fairway during a practice round yesterday ahead of the 138th British Open Championship at Turnberry Golf course in south-west Scotland, which begins tomorrow. The American hopes to mount a strong challenge, but is expecting tough weather conditions.

Tiger Woods has never lacked self-belief on his way to becoming the best golfer the world has ever seen but even he admitted to being taken aback by the level of success he has enjoyed since stepping gingerly inside the ropes again after knee surgery. The world No 1's objective as he entered hospital shortly after triumphing at last year's US Open was simply to get his creaking joint sufficiently repaired to so that he was fit enough to compete again. Winning tournaments did not figure in the first phase of his comeback plan earlier this year.

But win them he has - three of them - enabling him to travel to Scotland for his first experience of Turnberry's testing links in great heart with strong hopes of clutching the coveted Claret Jug for the fourth time and raising his haul of major titles to 15 as he chases Jack Nicklaus's all-time record of 18. Capturing a fourth Open to go with his four Masters green jackets, four US PGA victories and three US Opens would also enable Tiger to send a barbed text message to his close friend Roger Federer, the world No 1 tennis player who went ahead of him in their private honours battle by winning a 15th grand slam at Wimbledon earlier this month.

"Our texts back and forth have always been jabby," said Woods. "But Roger is not the type of person who would rub it in that he now has more majors than me. "He's as down to earth as you could ever want anybody to be, considering the amount of success he's had. "It's just so phenomenal to see all that hard work he's put in get him to 15 and to get the record for the most slams. He's been great. We are extremely supportive of one another. That's what friends do."

Woods admitted to being grateful to the support he received from other friends in the sporting world as he looked back to the state he was in a year ago, barely able to withstand the pain as he tried to watch Padraig Harrington close out a second successive Open victory. "My day consisted of trying to get from the bed to the couch and then from there back to the bed," he recalled. My leg was so bad at the time - I was going through probably some of the worst pain of my life."

"I wanted to watch this tournament but I really didn't do much of it. I probably caught the last nine holes and I watched some of the highlights. "I remember being really surprised at how good the scores were on the last day when the wind was blowing so hard." Woods is bracing himself for more wind at Turnberry - he finished his practice round before the course was bombarded by a lunchtime storm - but relishes the challenge that links golf poses compared to what conditions are normally like on the US Tour.

"You're playing different shots over here," he said. "You're not hitting the ball the same way, and you've got to hit different shots and manoeuvre the ball differently than what we did over there. "So you have to make some adjustments." Tiger did just that when winning the Open for the third time at Royal Liverpool (Hoyake) three years ago when he took the view that fairway bunkers were a no-go area so opted to use his two iron more often than not off the tee and play short of them.

That strategy demanded some extraordinarily long approach shots to the greens which Woods produced time after time in what was one of the most impressive demonstrations of mid-iron play ever seen. He believes a similar route to success may need to be followed here. "You have to be committed either to putting the ball short of the bunkers or carrying them or skirting it past them," he said. "You have to make sure you really know what you're doing out there, especially with the cross winds in some of these fairways where they're slanted. It certainly presents its challenges."

Challenges that Woods is clearly up to meeting after emphatically confounding those who speculated on the level of permanent damage his problematical knee would inflict on the rest of his career. wjohnson@thenational.ae