Woods returns ready to erase painful memories

After missing out with knee surgery last year the world No 1 seeks to make amends
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The Independent Online

It is a rare day at a major championship when Tiger Woods can fly under the radar. But what with Lylegate going on and the pressure on Padraig Harrington as the double-defending champion, the world No 1 was able to zip through his usual practice round and stage a relaxed press conference 48 hours before he returns to the Open Championship.

A quiet day was exactly what Woods wanted, knowing that from tomorrow things will get a little busier. "Very quiet," Tiger said, unable to keep the smile off his face. "I don't think you guys will be out there, will you?"

If there is one player in the field whose every move, in his own country at least, is monitored almost as closely as Woods, it is Japan's Ryo Ishikawa. Putting the two together for the first two days, along with England's Lee Westwood, will create something of a media maelstrom but Woods has been there and done that.

Except he was not here last year, and could not do much of anything. After surgery on his knee, Woods was missing from the Open at Royal Birkdale, leaving Harrington and Greg Norman to duel for the Claret Jug.

"My day consisted of trying to get from the bed to the couch and then from there back to bed," Tiger recalled. "That was my day. At that time I was going through some of the worst pain in my leg.

"I really didn't do much of watching the tournament. I probably caught the last nine holes and I was surprised how windy it was and how well the guys were playing. What Paddy did on the back nine, shooting 32 in that wind, that was pretty phenomenal." As for competing for a major at the age of 53, as Norman did last year, Woods has low expectations. "It would just be nice to be above dirt," he said.

Tiger has won three times since returning to the game in March. "The first win back [at the Arnold Palmer Invitational] was pretty special," he said. "The people around me know how hard I had to work to get back into a position to play again."

Only a major is lacking so far to make his comeback complete and the three-time Open champion has an extra incentive. Little more than a month ago he led his friend Roger Federer 14-13 in the major stakes. Victories at Roland Garros and Wimbledon have put the Swiss ahead and the texts have been flowing, although Federer is not much of a one for rubbing it in. "Not at all, Roger is as down to earth a person as you'd ever want to meet, for the amount of success he has had.

"It is just so phenomenal to see all that hard work he's put in to get to 15 and get the record for the most slams. Our texts back and forth have always been jabby here and there but also extremely supportive of one another. That's what friends do."

Woods is new to Turnberry but its three Open champions, Tom Watson, who famously defeated Jack Nicklaus in 1977, Norman and Nick Price were among the best players of their era. "At this golf course you can understand why," he said. "They were all great ball-strikers and around here you have to drive well and hit your irons well. You just can't fake it around this course."

As for Ishikawa, at 17 years old he is the new hope from Japan. He has already won three times out there and this year has played his first events in America.

"I've been there before," Woods said of the attention being heaped on the youngster. "He has had a lot to deal with at a very young age and he's handled it well. There is no reason why he can't play well the first two days and into the weekend. And hopefully I can do the same." For hope, substitute expectation.

Missing inaction: Woods' time out

Tiger Woods revealed he required surgery on his left knee two days after winning the US Open in June last year. The rest of the season was a write-off for the world No 1, meaning he missed:

June A T & T National, Bethesda, Maryland.

July Open Championship, Birkdale; WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Akon, Ohio.

August PGA Championship, Battle Creek, Michigan; Deutsche Bank Champ, Norton, Mass.

September BMW Championship, St Louis; Ryder Cup, Valhalla.

October World Match Play, Wentworth; Volvo Masters, Valderrama.