(CNN) A year ago he couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel, but now Tiger Woods is back and desperate to show his competitive fire remains undimmed.
The former world No. 1 will tee off in his foundation’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas Thursday (today) after 15 months away from the game following multiple back surgeries.
Just to be back playing is an achievement, says Woods, but the goal is the same as it ever was.
“I’ve entered the event, I’m going to try to win this thing,” the 40-year-old reporters.
However, he was also quick to manage expectations.
“Winning is an evolution,” he said. “It’s going from at home on the range, then going out on my home course, then going into tournament setting, then on the back nine of an event trying to win and then ultimately it’s the back nine of a major, which is a totally different animal.
“Right now I haven’t competed yet so I’m at the beginning stages of that.”
At the news conference before last year’s event, tournament host Woods cut a dejected figure as he explained how in his darkest moments he couldn’t get out of bed because of his back, let alone contemplate playing golf.
“I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy,” he said of his 14 major titles and 79 PGA Tour wins.
But now Woods, who called off a planned return at the Safeway Open in October, saying his game was still “vulnerable”, believes he is ready to play and, more importantly, compete — a “different reality,” as he puts it.
“It’s a lot better situation this year than last,” he told reporters.
“To get back here to this level has been a challenge, a lot of hard work and an inordinate amount of patience, which is not one of my hallmarks.”
Woods has spent his time off consolidating his business interests for “phase two of his life,” and “cherishing” time with his kids, as well as getting back to full fitness and developing a swing that will accommodate his physical state. The one thing he hasn’t changed, he says, is his mindset.
“I’m going to be focused, do what I can do, put the ball in the correct spots, try to bury these putts and posts scores and get myself in that mix come Sunday afternoon,” he said.
“I know that’s a tall order since I’ve been away from the game for so long and I’ve made a lot of different changes in my game, but the mindset is still the same. I’m going out to try to beat these guys.”
Woods said pulling out of the Safeway Open was the “smart thing to do,” but admitted he will be feeling nervous when he tees off with Ryder Cup colleague Patrick Reed Thursday.
“There’s nerves, of course, because I care, I want to win,” he said.
There were times during his recovery when he questioned whether he would ever return to competitive golf, he says.
“Yes, definitely. Not being able to get out of bed, not being able to move, how can I expect to come out here and swing a golf club at 120mph and be ballistic?” he said.
“There was a lot of trepidation. At times I did think about it, it was realistic. When I had my knee redone and it was completely blown, I knew it was nine months [out] but I knew I could come back from it. When you’re dealing with a spine and dealing with nerves it’s a completely different deal.”
Woods’ oft-stated career goal is to beat Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major titles, a target that appeared to be out of his grasp this time last year.
Now he’s back, Nicklaus believes Woods can still do it.
“I’ve always thought that he’s got at least another 10 years of good competitive golf in front of him, if he’s healthy and as talented as he is,” Nicklaus Sport.