Tiger Woods not focusing on victory as comeback continues

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Tiger Woods insists enjoyment is still the primary aim of his latest comeback despite threatening to record his first victory in five years last week.

Woods finished a shot behind Paul Casey in the Valspar Championship, just his fourth PGA Tour event since undergoing spinal fusion surgery in April 2017, his fourth back operation in the space of three years.

That followed 12th place on his previous start and has led to the 14-time major winner being installed as favourite for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, an event he has won eight times, including on his last appearance in 2013.

Even during the depth of his injury problems Woods was famous for insisting he was “here for the win” whenever he played, but the 42-year-old’s expectations have seemingly changed since he acknowledged he might never be able to play again.

“Just keep getting better,” Woods replied when asked about his expectations during a pre-tournament press conference at Bay Hill. “Just keep making incremental improvements and I think I’ve done that.

“Each and every week I’ve learned from what I’ve done and more importantly I’m learning my body. I’m learning how I can swing it and not swing it. My recovery, these are all things that are new. So I’m still learning, I’m getting a lot better at it, which is nice, and I think that you’re starting to see the fruits of that now, of the little tweaks I’ve made and I’m excited about it.”

Pressed on his prospects of winning the same event for a record ninth time, Woods added: “I would just have to say what I keep saying, just enjoy this. If you would have asked me this at the Presidents Cup last year, I didn’t know.

“And so for me to go from not knowing whether or not I will ever be able to play the game again, to I might be able to play maybe at the Tour level, actually I might be able to make a couple of cuts, well I might be able to possibly get myself into the mix, oh, I’m in the mix.

“And so there’s a process and an evolution to it and it’s been quick, but still I have to say just to enjoy all of this, because at one point that wasn’t even a thought. I didn’t ever even think about playing out here.”

In contrast to Woods, Rory McIlroy is looking to simply to get his game back on track ahead of the Masters after missing the cut in two of his last four events.

An early exit from the Valspar Championship saw the former world number one drop to 13th in the rankings, his lowest position since breaking into the top 10 for the first time in November 2009.

McIlroy, who needs to win at Augusta National to complete the career grand slam, started the year with third in Abu Dhabi and second in Dubai but has a best finish of joint 20th from four events on the PGA Tour.