Back in the swing: Tiger Woods ready to compete after 15-month absence

Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the Pro-Am at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Nassau, Bahamas.
Tiger Woods watches his tee shot on the fourth hole during the Pro-Am at the Hero World Challenge golf tournament, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Nassau, Bahamas. AP

Tiger Woods is making another comeback, but admitted that a year ago, when he was bedridden and recovering from spine surgery, he was uncertain whether he would ever play golf again.

Woods, who turns 41 on Dec. 30, spoke Tuesday at the Albany Golf Club in Nassau, Bahamas, where he is ready to return after a 15-month absence at the Hero World Challenge, which he’s won five times but finished in last place two years ago. Since then he has undergone two operations on his back.

“Not being able to get out of bed, not being able to move, how can I expect to come out here and swing a golf club at 120 miles per hour and be ballistic when I can’t even get out of bed?” Woods said at a news conference. “So, yeah, there was a lot of trepidation and times where I thought, was it realistic?”

Woods confessed he couldn’t “see the light at the end of the tunnel” when he began his rehabilitation, which was initially limited to walking around the block.

”When I had my knee redone and it was completely blown, I knew it was nine months, but I knew I could come back from it, it’s not nerve damage,” he said. “When you’re dealing with a spine, when you’re dealing with nerves, it’s a totally different deal.”

Woods, who has won 14 major titles but hasn’t won a tournament since the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, tried to return in October at the Safeway Open but withdrew three days before the opening round, calling his game “vulnerable.”

”People around me who know me -- my physicians, my friends, family -- they know how hard it’s been to get to this point. A lot of hard work, an extreme inordinate amount of patience, which as you all know is not exactly one of my hallmarks,” he said. “I haven’t played in a while. But, hey, I’m going to give it my best. I’m going to be focused, I’m going to do what I can do and put the ball in the correct spots, give myself looks and try to bury these putts, post scores and get myself in the mix come Sunday afternoon.

“I know that’s a tall order since I’ve been away from the game for so long and I’ve made a lot of different changes in my game, but the mindset’s still the same. That is to go out there and try to beat these guys.”

Although the tournament invites only golfers ranked in the top 50, the defending champion and current major winners, Woods, who is ranked 898th, got a spot because his foundation is host. The 18-man field includes Rickie Fowler, Dustin Johnson, Zach Johnson, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Jordan Spieth, Henrik Stenson, Jimmy Walker and Bubba Watson.

Woods has had three back surgeries since his first microdiscectomy on a disk in his lower back in March 2014. Since then he’s missed six cuts (three at three consecutive majors), withdrawn twice, shot three rounds in the 80s. He hasn’t competed since August 2015, where he tied for 10th at the Wyndham Championship. Over the years, Woods has also had problems with his left knee, both Achilles’ tendons and his neck.

Woods said one of the advantages of his layoff was having more free time at home in Jupiter, Florida, with daughter Sam, 9, and son Charlie, 7.

Woods’ sponsor Nike has announced it will leave the golf business by the end of 2016, so Woods is testing new equipment, including a Bridgestone ball. But he’s slid one old reliable into his golf bag -- the Scotty Cameron putter he used to win 13 of his majors.

“Charlie knows there are two putters he can’t touch,” Woods said. “There’s the black one I won with the trillium insert; I won the Masters in ‘97 with it. And this one. They sit next to each other. These putters are off limits.”

The event will be televised Thursday and Friday, 1:30-4:30 p.m. on the Golf Channel; Saturday, 12-2:30 p.m. on the Golf Channel and 2:30-5 p.m. on NBC, and Sunday 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on the Golf Channel and 1-4 p.m. on NBC.