Woods returns to Firestone after 3-month break

The sun started to rise over the Firestone Country Club but what was more spectacular was the sight of Tiger Woods on the practice range, the first time he was seen on a PGA Tour golf course after an injury left him out of the course during the last three months.

Woods can’t wait to get started at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational this week even as the season heads towards a conclusion.

“I’m excited to compete, to play,” Woods said. “And hopefully, to win the tournament.”

While that part of Woods has not changed at all, the thirst to win, it seems that everything in the world of golf which he once rules has changed. He showed up at the course, with a ranking of 28 which was the lowest rank he got since he started on his first PGA Tour full season.

Woods showed up with a new, albeit temporary caddie, Bryon Bell, a childhood friend who has nothing much to work on these days as his design business has been affected by the industry’s downturn. Bell also worked for Woods when he won the U.S. Amateur in 1996 and the Buick Invitational at Torrey Pines in 1999 and played caddy for him at the Disney Classic in 2005.

He has gone 20 months since his last Australian Master victory and is no longer golf’s dominant force. However, the biggest challenge for Woods is his health and how he feels about it.

“The great thing is I don’t feel a thing,” Woods said. “It feels solid. It feels stable. No pain. That’s one of the reasons why I took as long as I did to come back, is that I want to get to this point where I can go ahead and start playing golf again like this. It’s been a very long time, and it feels good to go out there today and hit balls like this, go practice and feel nothing and walk around and pretty much do anything I want on the golf course.”

“Years,” was his answer to the question on how long has it been since he felt so physically good.

Woods, who was world’s No. 1 when he played a year ago at the Bridgestone Invitational, has not played since he walked off last May 12 during the Players Championship due to recurring injuries to his Achilles tendon and left knee. He vowed never to return in the course until he was 100 percent healthy.

“Trying to beat these boys,” Woods said, is what got him excited. “That’s fun. Getting out there and trying to win golf tournaments, being there with a chance to win, whether you win or fail. Just being there is just a rush, and it’s just so much fun. Trying to pull off the shots that you’ve done in practice when it matters the most, see what you’ve got. That’s fun.”