Tiger Woods back at Royal Liverpool

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HOYLAKE, England -- The last time he walked off the 18th green at Royal Liverpool, Tiger Woods sobbed in the arms of his former caddie, a third Claret Jug won amid a torrent of emotion.

On Saturday, Woods returned to the scene of his last Open Championship title to a much different-looking golf course, and came off that same 18th green with a smattering of spectators taking pictures and a few reporters waiting to ask questions.

It was a quiet day at Hoylake, where Woods will play in his first major championship this year after missing the Masters and U.S. Open due to back surgery. He played 12 holes -- Nos. 1 through 6 and then Nos. 13 to 18 with PGA Tour player Patrick Reed -- and dodged a few raindrops along the way.

And he was pleased that you'd be hard-pressed to see any pain or discomfort as he played the course.

"I'm not favoring anything," Woods said. "The little baby steps worked. We were very diligent about what I was doing. Going into it we pushed it pretty hard to get my abs and glutes strong so when I did come back I was able to rebound fast. I can do whatever I want. I'm at that point now. We didn't think we'd get to that point until this tournament or the week after."

Woods had surgery to alleviate a pinched nerve in his back on March 31, and has said that the pain prior was so severe it affected his qualify of life, not just golf.

"Before I had the procedure, I was at the point I couldn't do anything," he said. "This is how I used to feel. I had been playing with [the back injury] for a while and I had my good weeks and bad weeks. Now they are all good."

How he fares this week at a place he dominated eight years ago will be of great interest. Woods hit just one driver at Hoylake in 2006, laying up with mostly 2-irons and fairway woods off the tee to stay short of the numerous pot bunkers. Strong iron play led to a two-stroke win over Chris DiMarco at 270, 18 under, on a burned-out, fast-running course.

"It's definitely different, there is no doubt," Woods said. "It's a lot more green, lush, but it's still playing fast."

In his return to competitive golf two weeks ago at the Quicken Loans National, Woods missed the cut with rounds of 74-75 and showed plenty of rust. His short game was particularly poor, as he got up and down for par just 3-of-16 times.

And yet, even playing was a surprise: Woods had been targeting the Open for his return.

"Congressional was big for me," Woods said. "The fact I could go out there and play and I got better as the days went on. It was a little bit eerie and iffy if that was going to happen or not, especially with how hard I was hitting the ball.

"But I've got my speed back, which is nice, and I'm starting to hit the ball out there again. I'm only going to get stronger. As the weeks go on, I'm getting strong and faster."

Woods described the week after the Quicken Loans tournament as a "working vacation," having gone on a trip with his children. He ramped up his preparations at home in Florida last week.

A business trip to Switzerland on Friday to meet with Rolex officials meant a short trip to England on Saturday morning. He teed off around 3 p.m. local time and finished just before 6 p.m.

In 2006, Woods had missed his first cut as a pro in a major championship at the U.S. Open following the death of his father, Earl, in May of that year. Hence, the emotional scene with caddie Steve Williams following the victory.

This time, things were much more subdued, especially with rain on and off.

"I just wanted to get out here and get a feel for the golf course," Woods said. "I just wanted to get out here and get my feet wet, and literally I did."

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