Tiger Woods said he is back at full strength after a tendon strain and physically ready for the challenge of eight rounds in eight days that he faces playing this week's PGA golf event at Bay Hill. Woods comes into the Arnold Palmer Invitational, his final tune-up for the Masters in two weeks at Augusta National, after a practice round last Sunday at Augusta, the two-day Tavistock Cup exhibition and a practice round on Wednesday.

“I feel really good now,” Woods said. “That's just because of treatment. I've had some good therapists on board and they've done some really good work.” Woods withdrew in the final round of the World Golf Championships event at Doral earlier this month with tightness in his left Achilles tendon, sparking concerns that nagging injuries had returned to foil yet another season.

The 14-time Major champion, chasing the all-time record 18 Major titles won by Jack Nicklaus, pulled out after hitting a tee shot on the 12th hole in the last round of his third consecutive tournament in as many weeks.

In making his recovery with the Masters in mind, Woods decided to test his endurance and stamina with a Sunday practice round, then the Tavistock team exhibition the past two days and at Bay Hill, where he has won six times. “It felt great at Augusta and that was the test,” Woods said. “I played Tavistock because of that test and here I am ready to go.”

Learning process

Woods said that the Achilles tightness could return without warning, but noted that he recognises the signs of trouble and has learned that proper treatment at the proper time gets the situation back to normal. “That's one of the reasons why I wasn't really that concerned about it, that I would come back and play these events, because when it gets that tight, treatment for two or three days, it's all fine, all the swelling goes way and I'm good to go,” Woods said.

Woods felt a twinge of pain in his back on Wednesday when a photographer took a picture of him in the middle of his downswing and he stopped, but said his back loosened up and felt fine.

“Time has taught Woods not to play through the injuries when they happen.

“I used to be able to just kind of play through it, but then again, that's also set me back and one of the reasons why I had surgeries is that I would ignore those and just kind of play through it,” Woods said.

“I had success, but the problem is, it was also detriment at the same time physically. I've changed my practice routine based on that. If things aren't feeling right, I just won't hit balls for four or five hours. I'll go work on something else.”

A setback

Woods tried to play through knee and Achilles injuries last year and made his injuries worse, forcing him to miss the U.S. and British Opens.

Tournament host Palmer says he sees flashes of Woods in his prime in the form that Woods has shown, even though Woods has not won a tour-sanctioned event since November of 2009.

“I'm watching him swing and I'm watching him play, and I see some moments of the old-fashioned Tiger that is very good,” Palmer said. “He's strong enough and smart enough to do the things that he always did. It's just a matter of getting it in the proper order to make him play the kind of golf that he played in the past 20 years.

“If I were making a prediction, I would say, look out, because one of these days, he's going to come back and play pretty good golf.”

Palmer's event will not include World No. 1 Luke Donald or World No. 2 Rory McIlroy, both choosing to rest in the two weeks prior to the year's first Major.

“I'm disappointed that they are not here, no question about it. They are the top players on the tour right now,” Palmer said.

“We are very proud of our field but to have a couple of the top players not here, I'm kind of sorry for that. But I think we can get that squared away and maybe we'll entice them to come in the future.” — AFP

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