Narashino, Japan | AFP | Tiger Woods said Monday his fitness was ahead of schedule after arthroscopic knee surgery, and dropped a heavy clue he might use one of his four Presidents Cup captain’s picks on himself.
“I’m probably a week early. My season had ended a little bit earlier than I had expected it,” the 15-time major winner told reporters at Accordia Golf, Narashino Country Club near Tokyo before coming through an exhibition match unscathed.
“I had the procedure a little bit early and got ahead of it,” he added.
Woods is in Japan this week to play in the US PGA Tour’s inaugural Zozo Championship, the second $9.75 million tournament of an almost $30 million three-event Asian swing.
He intends to end his year by playing in the Hero World Challenge beginning December 4, before going to Australia to captain Team USA in the Presidents Cup a week later.
Woods, who completed a remarkable return from years of injury and personal problems to win the US Masters in April, said his knee had been giving him more pain as the year wore on.
“It progressively got worse and got to the point where it was affecting even reading putts,” the 43-year-old Woods said.
Woods has a large depth of talent from which to make his four captains picks ahead of the match against Ernie Els’s International team at Royal Melbourne.
– Needling and jabbing –
“I’ve been pretty consumed by it,” he said, adding his return to fitness made it more likely that he would use one of his wildcards on himself.
“It made me more hopeful that I could play this week, play Hero and play Australia,” said Woods, who has dropped one place to number 10 in Monday’s new world rankings.
“The way I was feeling towards the middle part of the year, it was going to be a tall order to be able to do it all.”
If Woods burns one of his picks on himself that leaves him the difficulty of choosing three players from the likes US Open champion, Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Rickie Fowler, Kevin Kisner and Jordan Spieth.
Woods also reiterated he wanted to come back to Japan next year to represent the US at the 2020 Olympics.
“I would love to play in an Olympic Games,” he said. “It would be an honour to represent my country in an Olympic Games. Hopefully next year I can have a good year and qualify.”
Before all that, however, Woods on Monday shook off the rust and tested his knee in a made-for-TV exhibition — “The Challenge: Japan Skins” — against Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama.
It was knockabout stuff with plenty of banter to entertain large galleries of Japan’s golf-mad fans as the players tried to win holes outright for cash or “skins” worth anything from $10,000 to $100,000.
Woods looked healthy throughout the 18 holes, though the golf was nowhere near as intense as tournament play.
Day came out on top, pocketing $210,000 mainly because of winning the final two skins. Woods and McIlroy scooped $60,000 each and Matsuyama $20,000.
“Just being able to compete again, I haven’t done this in a little bit now,” said Woods.
“I just thought the competitive atmosphere was fantastic, the shots we hit were great.
“And on top of that, I think the banter back and forth, the needling, the jabbing, it was all good fun and I hope we were entertaining everyone.