Unlike a year ago, Tiger Woods has reason for optimism

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NASSAU, Bahamas -- For three days, Tiger Woods?has looked and sounded like Tiger Woods.

He hit numerous golf shots confidently and without limitation during a lengthy Sunday practice session; he played a carefree practice round Monday and chatted freely about it afterward.

And on Tuesday, during a news conference at Albany Golf Club, Woods said he is here "to win" the Hero World Challenge, although he offered up a rare and yet smart admission that it will be a "tall order" to do so given where he has been and where he is now.

In the present, he is smiling and upbeat. In the past -- specifically here a year ago -- he was somber and downcast.

"If you couldn't get out of bed, how would you feel about your future doing a lot of different things in life?" Woods asked Tuesday. "That's where I was. And if you weren't allowed to use your hands to write any more, you could think it but you couldn't do it, how would it feel? That's where I was."

Woods admitted that he has had plenty of doubts about his golf future dating back to the Wyndham Championship, when he last played a competitive round 15 months ago.

Two surgeries. A lengthy rehab that included no golf shots for more than four months, no holes played for six months. A summer of major championship golf that went on without him. Little information about his progress. An aborted return to golf in October at the Safeway Open.

The doubts about Woods have been never-ending, starting with his own words on Dec. 1, 2015.

  • "I think pretty much everything beyond this will be gravy."
  • And: "There's really nothing I can look forward, nothing I can build towards. Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?"
  • And when asked whether he might not be playing golf a year later: "I really don't know."

A year later, here is Woods, still without a competitive round to his name but with far more optimism.

The golf-swing gurus will tell you that his swing looks different, that it is not as free-flowing, that he might be trying to protect his back. Well, yeah. For him to have any chance of playing competitively, it only makes sense that he makes some adjustments.

Woods has yet to dive into those details, but he did allow that he is still working with instructor Chris Como and they spent a good bit of time together working in Florida in recent weeks.

"I'm sitting in front of you guys with a different reality because things have improved so much that I'm able to come back here and do this again," he said. "It hasn't been easy. It's taken a lot of work, but I'm here."

And now that he is, Woods admits to being nervous, but in a good way.

"There's nerves, of course, because I care," he said. "I care about what I do out there. I want to win and I want to place the ball in the correct spots, give myself the best angles and bury these putts. So trying to figure that out, there's nerves. But it's controlling it and getting into the flow of the round, how fast can I get into the flow of the round.

"I need to find the flow of the round quick, and hopefully I can do that."

Perhaps the best sign is that Woods has been practicing. Twice in the past month, caddie Joe LaCava traveled to Florida to work with Woods, insisting that they play consecutive rounds walking.

As basic as that sounds, it is but one important aspect of getting ready. "He wants to jump in the cart and play in 2? hours, and I get that," LaCava said. "But you have to walk in a tournament, and you have to get used to that rhythm again."

Woods arrived in the Bahamas on Saturday and played nine holes. There was an extensive practice session Sunday, followed on Monday by a nine-hole practice round and more practice. Tuesday required a good bit of Woods' time associated with the tournament, but he still fit in a practice session. And Wednesday morning is an 18-hole pro-am preceding the first round of the tournament.

Woods still has yet to hit a ball in competition since signing for that final-round 70 in Greensboro at the 2015 Wyndham Championship, but so far there is cautious optimism as the 14-time major winner returns.

"Winning is an evolution," he said. "It's going from at home on the range and then going out on my home course and then going into a tournament setting and then eventually on the back nine of an event trying to win it. And then the ultimate is a major championship and then the back nine of a major is a totally different animal. So it's a process.

"Right now, I haven't even competed yet, so I'm at the beginning stages of that. I've been at the range, I've been at Medalist [his home course], and now I'm here and I haven't teed off yet."

To put it in Woods' own terms: That light at the end of the tunnel that he could not locate a year ago is at least a glimmer today.