Tiger Woods looked a far cry from the shattered man with the yips as he made his return to the public eye and declared his game ready to compete again.
The 14-time major champion seemed relaxed and light-hearted in his first practice round at Augusta National on Monday ahead of his 20th Masters, where’s he seeking a fifth title.
It was Woods’ first public outing since going into self-imposed tournament exile in early February to sort out his ailing game.
He’s been off the tour since withdrawing at Torrey Pines a week after he missed the cut at the Phoenix Open with a blowout second round 82.
In those performances, Woods suffered repeated chipping woes, blading and stubbing chips like a 15-handicapper.
Prior to those results, his 2014 resume consisted of CUT, WD, 69th, CUT, T25, WD and T80 as he battled form issues and a back injury.
But on Monday, signs were looking up.
After a loose opening tee shot, Woods stiffed an approach to five feet and made birdie.
Over the front nine, Woods hit two further approaches for tap-ins at the fourth and seventh holes – playfully shaping up then belting the short putt on the seventh across the green to amuse his big gallery of fans and media.
He finished 11 holes alongside longtime friend and fellow Masters champion Mark O’Meara before darkness.
“It’s been a process,” Woods said of his nine weeks away.
“But I’m on the good side now.
“I felt like I had to get my game into a spot where I could compete to win a golf tournament, and it’s finally there.
“Chipping is fine. I wanted to test out some wedges. That was why I was chipping a little bit more.”
O’Meara warned against writing Woods off, though it’s 11 years since his last Masters triumph and almost eight years since his last major win.
“The thing about the kid is you can never underestimate Tiger Woods,” O’Meara said.
“He has a great passion.
“I’m a huge fan, friend. I care about him.
“It was good to be out there with him today. I saw some good signs.
“I like what he’s doing. I like what he and (instructor) Chris (Como) are doing.
“His pitching looks a lot better. He’s worked really hard on it.
“There’s a lot of pressure on him, there has been his whole life.
“But if he swings the way he is capable of swinging and pitches and rolls the putter, there’s no reason why he can’t have a good week.”
Thursday claimed the green jacket in 1997, 2001, 2002 and 2005 but he has dropped to 111th in the world rankings.
“He’ll be nervous on Thursday. We all are,” O’Meara said.
“And under the gun it’s always a little bit different. But never underestimate Tiger Woods.”