Tiger Woods was on the practice range just as the sun began to rise yesterday over Firestone, his first time on a PGA Tour golf course in nearly three months.
Even as the season heads toward a conclusion, Woods can’t wait to get started.
“I’m excited to compete, to play,’’ Woods said. “And hopefully, to win the tournament.’’
That part about Woods hasn’t changed.
It’s everything else in the world of golf he once ruled that is so much different. Woods showed up at the Bridgestone Invitational in Akron, Ohio, at No. 28, his lowest world ranking since the start of his first full season on the PGA Tour. He has a new caddie - at least temporarily - in Bryon Bell, a childhood friend who now heads up a design business that is not getting much work these days with a downturn in the industry.
He no longer is the dominant force in golf, having gone 20 months since his last win at the Australian Masters.
For Woods, however, the biggest change is how he feels about his health.
“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.’’
Asked how long it has been since he felt so good physically, Woods replied, “Years.’’
It almost seems that long ago since he was last in action. Woods, who was No. 1 in the world at the Bridgestone Invitational a year ago, has not played since he walked off the course after nine holes May 12 at The Players Championship with recurring injuries to his left knee and Achilles’ tendon.
Woods wasn’t about to return until he was 100 percent healthy, and he is convinced of that now.
Woods still managed to make news while not playing when he fired his caddie, Steve Williams, after a 12-year partnership during which he won 13 majors.
“I felt that Stevie and I have had just an amazing run,’’ he said. “Steve is a hell of a caddie, there’s no denying that. He’s helped my career, and I think I’ve helped his, as well. We’ve had a great partnership for 12 years, maybe a little bit more than that, won a bunch of tournaments. I just felt it was time to change things up a little bit. I felt very comfortable with the move.’’
WGAM Amateur Championship - In match play during the round of 32 at Weston Golf Club, Mindy Davies made the most of her home course advantage when she faced off against defending champion Pam Kuong of Charles River Country Club. The Weston GC club champion beat Kuong, 3 and 2, to advance to today’s quarterfinal round.
Junior PGA Championship - Zachary Wright, 17, of Phoenix shot a 6-under 66 and has a four-stroke lead after one round in Fort Wayne, Ind. On the girls’ side, 16-year-old Casey Danielson of Osceola, Wis., is atop the leaderboard with a 68 - the lowest competitive round of her career - at the Jack Nicklaus-designed Sycamore Hills Golf Club. Wright had five birdies and eagled the par-5 12th hole.