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Optimistic Tiger ready for return at Hero

Tiger Woods Tiger Woods - The Canadian Press

Even though he hasn’t played an event in almost seven months, Tiger Woods made it clear Tuesday that he is still the most important person in golf.

In his first meeting with the press since the Masters, Woods responded to a flurry of questions – ranging from the state of his body to the state of his game.

The 15-time major champion looked fit and healthy as he sat in the press centre at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas. He will tee off on Thursday for his first competitive round since he withdrew from the Masters last April.

“I've played a lot of holes, but I haven't used a pencil and scorecard,” said Woods of his preparation. “Now you put a pencil to paper and it really counts, it's a little bit different story. So, I'm very curious about that as well.”

Woods underwent a subtalar fusion last April, a procedure to alleviate the extreme pain he was feeling in his ankle. While the surgery worked, that does not mean he is pain-free. He admitted that his knee and back are still troublesome, and he is a long way from when he was in his prime.

But he spoke optimistically about the year ahead. In a best-case scenario, he’d like to play one tournament a month, starting with the Genesis Invitational in February, followed by the Players and then the four majors: the Masters, PGA Championship, US Open and the Open Championship.

“I'm just as curious as all of you with what's going to happen,” he told the assembled media. “I haven't done a this in a while.”

While he’s been absent from the fairways, Woods has still been involved in the game in the board room. In August, he joined the PGA Tour policy board, becoming a large presence in the decisions that are being made as the Tour negotiates its future path with a variety of possible partners, including the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia (PIF), the backer of LIV Golf.

His decision to become a board member came after the surprise announcement last June that the PIF and PGA Tour were in discussions to create a new league. Those went ahead without the knowledge of any member of the PGA Tour.

“I was very surprised that the process was what it was,” said Woods. “We were very frustrated with what happened, and we took steps going forward to ensure that we were not going to be left out of the process like we were. So, part of that process was putting me on the board and accepting that position.”

Woods’ addition to the board gave the players a majority on the 11-person council, something it didn’t have in the past. It also gave it the biggest name in golf, leading their side and making demands that perhaps only someone of his stature could do. Still, time and again on Tuesday he used the word frustrating when describing a number of issues on the table, including the speed of negotiations and proposed changes to the governance of the PGA Tour. However, it’s now clear the players are in charge with Woods at the helm.

“I think the overall emotion is we can't let that happen again,” Woods said in reference to the secret negotiations. “How we do that is having six player directors, so we control the board, and we control what we're going to do. We're not going to have what transpired a few months ago without our involvement again.”

That statement was echoed again, when Woods was asked for his trust in PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan. It was clear that while Monahan was still in place, his breach of trust means he is on a very short leash as far as the players are concerned.

In spite of the extra workload and his optimistic return to play, Woods still believes he can win on the PGA Tour. That may be far-fetched, at least in the short term, but his desire to hit better shots, sink more putts and post a lower score hasn’t waned. The PGA Tour is what drives him and has been a large part of his life for almost three decades.

“I love competing, I love playing,” stated Woods, who turns 48 on Dec. 30. “I miss being out here with the guys, I miss the camaraderie and the fraternity-like atmosphere out here and the overall banter. But what drives me is I love to compete. There will come a point in time, I haven't come around to it fully yet, that I won't be able to win again. When that day comes, I'll walk – well, now I can walk. I won't say run away, but I'm going to walk away.”

Golf certainly hopes that time is still a ways off.