It took until the final question of a half-hour media conference on Tuesday for Woods to be pressed as to his motivation. The answer was immediate: “Winning. I quite like it.” The subsequent smile did not disguise sentiment.
If serious doubts remain – and plenty of them do – as to whether Woods can return to anything even close to his best, the 39-year-old is oblivious. It was not so much the content of Woods’s briefing that resonated as the certainty with which he delivered it.
He has not won a major since the 2008 US Open, he has not prevailed at Augusta in a decade and he has a record over the past year in which a tie for 69th is a tournament high point. Woods lies 111th in the world but he did not land in Georgia to make up any numbers, after a self-imposed exile from events going back to early February when he prematurely departed the scene at Torrey Pines as a disconsolate figure.
“Competing is still the same,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I’m trying to beat everybody out there. That hasn’t changed. I prepare to win and expect to go and do that. I want to win. The whole idea is to prepare and do that and I feel like my game is finally ready to go and do that again.
“Earlier in the year, I was caught right between two [swing] release patterns. I had to get rid of that and make sure I had one release pattern in me. It took a while. It took a lot of hard work. I finally got to the point where I feel I can do it now.
“I’m excited; excited to be back, to be back playing at this level. I feel like my game is finally ready to compete at this level, the highest level and I’m excited to be here.”
And if he were, indeed, to don what would be a fifth Green Jacket, where would this rank? “It would be my 15th major. We have a long way to go before that. We have a lot of work.”
Among the elements motivating Woods, those who have written him off apparently do not feature. Albeit this was perhaps the most relaxed he had been before a major, the single-mindedness remains.
“I think it’s anyone’s choice whether they use the internet or not,” Woods said. “So I refuse to go on and read what you all write, good or bad, whether you’re friends of mine or not. I just choose not to go down that road.
“I’ve come to the understanding that I live it. I know exactly what I’m doing out here and I’ve hit the shots. I don’t really need someone else’s secondhand opinion of what I was thinking of. I know exactly what I am doing out there.”
Woods offered insight into the extent of his efforts over the past two months. “I worked my ass off,” he said. “That’s the easiest way to kind of describe it. I worked hard.
“People would never understand how much work I put into it to come back and do this again. But it was sunup to sundown and whenever I had free time; if the kids were asleep, I’d still be doing it, and then when they were in school, I’d still be doing it.”
For the first time since 2004, Woods will participate in the Masters’ par-three competition on Wednesday. He will have his two young children, Sam and Charlie, for company.
“It’s special,” he said. “This tournament means so much to me in so many different ways. We all know what happened in ’97 with my dad’s health and he was pronounced, well, he was dead at one point earlier that year; he came back, I came here and I won the Masters.
“To now have come full circle and to have a chance to have my kids out there and be able to share that with them, it’s special. Charlie has seen me win a tournament before. Sam was there at the US Open in 2008 but doesn’t remember it.
“It’s nice to be able to share these things with my family and it just means the world to me. They are excited, I’m excited and can’t wait to go out there.”
Against what is already a frenzied backdrop to all things Tiger, perhaps the most unfortunate players in the Masters field are Jamie Donaldson and Jimmy Walker. The pair will partner Woods over the first two rounds, starting at 1.48pm (6.48pm BST) on Thursday in the penultimate group of the opening round.
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