Tiger Woods took the field Thursday at the WGC-Cadillac Championship as healthy as he had been in years and pumped up about his ability to let it rip off the tee and apply a delicate touch on the greens.
Woods, in the marquee group at Doral with his new pal and world No. 1 Rory McIlroy, hoped that Wednesday’s hour-long session with old friend Steve Stricker on the putting green and the ever-improving durability of his once balky left knee would help him better last week’s T37 finish at the Honda Classic.
"[Stricker] just got me back to where I was in San Diego," Woods told Dave Shedloski, referring to his win at the Farmers Insurance Open in his PGA Tour season debut in January. "It was a little bit of everything, really."
Woods’ dramatic withdrawal from last year’s Cadillac event with a left leg injury had observers wondering about his future. He said on Wednesday, however, that he was pain-free and hitting the ball farther than he had in years (since 2007, to be precise, according to his PGA Tour stats).
“I’m actually able to do everything. I don’t have to worry about my Achilles or knee anymore,” Woods told reporters on Wednesday ahead of this week’s event. “I can now actually train instead of rehab.”
Since the world watched him drive off from Doral after 11 holes of his final round, Woods has worked hard to get his leg back in shape. He can now hit the gym without worrying about tweaking his four-time surgically repaired left knee.
"I've made some pretty significant gains in my strength," said Woods, who, in just three tour events this year had boosted his average driving distance some five yards and jumped from 35th on tour to 10th. "That's one of the reasons why I'm hitting it further. I have my legs underneath me."
Though pleased with his long game, Woods missed several birdie attempts at PGA National and determined he needed some tutoring from one of golf’s best putters. Indeed, his strokes gained-putting ranking had dipped from 36th in 2012 to 43rd though the Honda.
After working on his shaft angle with his Ryder and Presidents Cups partner, Woods pronounced himself ready to tackle the TPC Blue Monster.
"Yeah, I feel a lot better about it than I did an hour ago," Woods said.
For a live leaderboard from Doral, visit Golf.com.